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From The Editors Science

NASA Mobilizes Eleven US Companies to Develop Lunar Lander Prototypes

In a bid to expedite its ambitious Artemis moon program, NASA has shortlisted eleven US companies, including the likes of Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada, to research, design and develop lunar lander prototypes capable of landing humans on the lunar surface, the agency announced in a May 17 press release.

As part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP), NASA is awarding a combined amount of more than $45 million to these companies.

However, since NextSTEP is a public/private partnership program, the companies will have to shell out twenty percent of the overall project cost from their own coffers, which would not only reduce the taxpayer’s burden but also attract private investment in the potentially lucrative lunar business.

“To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business,” Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters, said in the press release.

“We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations,” he added.

“Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process,” he also said.

Since time is of the essence to NASA, it is putting into effect what it calls “undefinitized contract actions,” which essentially means the awardees will be paid in advance to start part of the work even before a final contract is agreed upon and signed.

“We’re taking major steps to begin development as quickly as possible, including invoking a NextSTEP option that allows our partners to begin work while we’re still negotiating,” Greg Chavers – human landing system formulation manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama – said in the release.

“We’re keen to collect early industry feedback about our human landing system requirements, and the undefinitized contract action will help us do that,” he added.

While NASA has not provided any design specifications to the awardees, it does plan to issue a “formal solicitation” this summer, laying down its requirements for the lunar lander.

It will then be up to the awardees to “propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration.”

“This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system,” Chavers said.

“NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”

Since the lunar lander will be based on three main elements – transfer, descent and refueling – each partner has been assigned specific areas to work on.

Here’s a list of the eleven awardees and their areas of responsibility

  1. Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California: One transfer vehicle study
  2. Blue Origin – Kent, Washington: One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
  3. Boeing – Houston: One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  4. Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama: One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
  5. Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado: One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
  6. Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California: One descent element prototype
  7. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia: One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  8. OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey: Two refueling element prototypes
  9. Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin: One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
  10. SpaceX – Hawthorne, California: One descent element study
  11. SSL – Palo Alto, California: One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype

Earlier this week, in a bid to arouse public interest in its ‘Moon2024′ mission, NASA released a video trailer, voiced-over by none other than William Shatner – the man most of us know as Captain Kirk, from Star Trek.

The short clip highlights the agency’s trailblazing Apollo success five decades ago; the challenges faced in cutting through the fictions of science then; and the challenges ahead as it works toward putting humans back on the moon by as early as 2024 – this time, to stay.

“Our charge is to go quickly, and to stay, to press our collective efforts forward with a fervor that will see us return to the moon in a manner that is wholly different than 50 years ago,” Shatner narrates.

“Our greatest adventures remain ahead of us. We are going.”

The video came on the heels of Monday’s christening of the mission, which the agency has decided to name ‘Artemis,’ the Greek mythology goddess of the moon and the twin sister of Apollo, after whom the lunar missions of the sixties and seventies were named.

It was definitely not a random choice, considering the agency’s plan to put the first woman on the lunar surface as part of the Moon2024 mission, or should we say the Artemis mission.

So important is the Moon2024 mission to the Trump administration that it has proposed a revised 2020 budget, seeking a further $1.6 billion to add to NASA’s $21 billion 2020 budget request.

The additional funding would go towards accelerating the program to meet the 2024 deadline for the mission, which was earlier planned for 2028.

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From The Editors Science

NASA‘s New Hype Video “We are Going” is Meant to Pique Public Interest in its Moon2024 Mission

In a bid to arouse public interest in its ‘Moon2024′ mission, NASA on Tuesday (May 15) released a video trailer, voiced-over by none other than William Shatner – the man most of us know as Captain Kirk, from Star Trek.

The 3 min 49-second clip highlights the agency’s trailblazing Apollo success five decades ago; the challenges faced in cutting through the fictions of science then; and the challenges ahead as it works toward putting humans back on the moon by as early as 2024 – this time, to stay.

“Our charge is to go quickly, and to stay, to press our collective efforts forward with a fervor that will see us return to the moon in a manner that is wholly different than 50 years ago,” Shatner narrates.

“Our greatest adventures remain ahead of us. We are going.”

The video comes close behind Monday’s christening of the mission, which the agency has decided to name ‘Artemis,’ the Greek mythology goddess of the moon and the twin sister of Apollo, after whom the lunar missions of the sixties and seventies were named; how can we forget!

The choice of name was certainly not arbitrary, considering the agency’s plan to put the first woman on the lunar surface as part of the Moon2024 mission.

So important is the Moon2024 mission to the Trump administration that it has proposed a revised 2020 budget, seeking a further $1.6 billion to add to NASA’s $21 billion 2020 budget request.

The additional funding would go towards accelerating the program to meet the 2024 deadline for the mission, which was earlier planned for 2018.

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump bragged in a Monday tweet, adding: “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”

In Dec 2017, Trump signed a momentous order, the “Space Policy Directive – 1,” authorizing NASA to send American astronauts to the moon again.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” he said, adding: “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for the long-term exploration and use.”

He also said:

“This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and, perhaps, someday to many worlds beyond.

“This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity.”

The presidential decree didn’t come as a surprise, as both the President and Pence had been talking about sending American astronauts back on a moon mission since their campaign days in 2016.

At a campaign event near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Trump had spoken about paving the way for NASA to “refocus on space exploration” rather than being restricted to serve “ primarily as a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities.”

Then, during the first NSC meeting in October 2017, US Vice President Mike Pence said that the Trump administration was committed to the moon mission and beyond.

It must be said that the directive was well-timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last of NASA’s six manned missions to the moon.

Similar promises were made by three former presidents but political and financial challenges associated with deep space exploration had derailed their plans.

The Trump government’s space plans is not just restricted to sending manned missions to the moon and beyond; it is also serious about launching a space warfare service branch – the United States Space Force (USSF) – which will become the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces, if only the president could get Congress to see through his eyes.

“Separate but equal” is the phrase Trump used to compare Space Force with the Air Force, speaking about it in a June 2018 NSC (National Space Council) meeting.

Pence, on his part, described Space Force as “an idea whose time has come” in a Pentagon address in August last year.

“The next generation of Americans to confront the emerging threats in the boundless expanse of space will be wearing the uniform of the United States of America,” he said, going on to add that the ball was now in the Congress court for establishing and funding the mammoth project.

“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” he also said.

Trump has already set the ball rolling by signing a directive –Space Policy Directive 4 (SPD-4) – in March this year, ordering the Department of Defense (DoD) to draft legislation for Congress to make Space Force a reality.

“America must be fully equipped to defend our vital interests. Our adversaries are training forces and developing technology to undermine our security in space, and they’re working very hard at that,” the president told reporters at the White House.

As for the funding, the government is requesting $14.1billion in its 2020 budget proposal for investing in space operations, a key part of which is the first allocation of $72 million to establish a Space Force headquarters.

As brilliant as the idea of having a dedicated military branch to secure the infinite deeps of space may seem to a lot of people, it is definitely not without its fair share of detractors.

Critics and naysayers, including National security specialists and US Armed Forces officials, have openly voiced their concerns against the creation of such an entity.

Their argument is based on the premise that creating a separate force for space-related activities of the US Armed Forces would encroach on the domain of the US Air Force Space Command, which currently manages that particular area of the nation’s security concerns.

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From The Editors Science

NASA Says the Moon is Shrivelling Up like a Raisin, Causing Moonquakes in the Process

Scientists have known for the last decade, or so, that the moon has shrunk by at least 150 feet (50 meters) over the last several hundred million years as its interior kept losing heat.

Giving the analogy of a shrinking and wrinkling grape as it transforms into a raisin, NASA says that the moon also shrank and wrinkled up as it cooled down.

However, owing to the fact that the lunar crust is brittle, unlike the supple exterior of a grape, it broke up, creating “thrust faults” where sections of the crust got pushed up over adjacent parts.

A team of researchers analyzing new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has found evidence that suggests the moon is continuing to shrink even today, causing thrust faults which, in turn, produce moonquakes as they slip.

“Our analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the Moon continues to gradually cool and shrink,” said Thomas Watters, a senior scientist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, and the lead author of the research, published Monday (May 14) in Nature Geoscience.

“Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale,” Watters added.

The new research was based on seismic data from the 1960s and 70s, recorded by four out of five seismometers left on the lunar surface by astronauts during Apollo missions  11, 12, 14, 15, and 16.

Barring the Apollo 11 seismometer, which lasted a mere three weeks, the remaining four registered a total of 28 shallow moonquakes, ranging from two to five on the Richter scale, between 1969 and 1977.

Using an algorithm, Watters and his team were able to get a better estimate of the location and epicenter of the quakes.

The new location-estimates revealed that 8 of the 28 quakes were not more than 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the thrust faults seen in lunar images, which led them to “tentatively” conclude that the quakes were caused by fault slips.

The researchers also noticed that six of the eight quakes occurred when the moon was at or approaching its apogee, the farthest point in its orbit around Earth, where tidal stress from Earth’s gravity is at peak levels, making the thrust faults more prone to “slip-events.”

To give more veracity to their conclusion, the researchers ran 10,000 simulations to determine whether so many quakes near the faults at the time of maximum stress could be a coincidence, only to discover that it was less than a four percent probability.

The possibility of meteoroid impacts causing the quakes was also ruled out because their seismic signature is different from that of quakes caused by slipping faults.

“We think it’s very likely that these eight quakes were produced by faults slipping as stress built up when the lunar crust was compressed by global contraction and tidal forces, indicating that the Apollo seismometers recorded the shrinking Moon and the Moon is still tectonically active,” said Watters.

Further evidence of the faults being active comes from high-definition images from the camera onboard the LRO, which has photographed more than 3,500 fault scarps – step-like cliffs on the lunar surface that are generally tens of meters high and can extend for several kilometers.

A number of these images show boulders and landslides at the bottom of the fault scarp slopes or nearby areas, which are relatively brighter than the rest of the surroundings, indicating freshly exposed patches that have not been darkened by solar and space radiation.

Now, that could most likely be the result of moonquakes sending debris down the slopes of the fault scarps.

Further confirmation that these are recent lunar events comes from some of the other LROC images that show tracks made by boulders rolling down a scarp slope during a moonquake caused by slipping faults.

Had the tracks not been recent enough, they would have been obliterated pretty quickly, geologically speaking, by constant micrometeoroid bombardment that the lunar surface is exposed to.

Faults in the Schrödinger basin of the moon show boulder tracks that scientists say are the result of recent boulder falls caused by seismic activity.

Here’s what LRO project scientist John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, had to say about the latest findings.

“It’s really remarkable to see how data from nearly 50 years ago and from the LRO mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon’s interior processes should go.”

With a decade’s worth of LRO images at their disposal, Watters and his team are of the opinion that comparing images of specific fault areas from different times may provide more proof of recent moonquakes.

Study co-author Renee Weber, a planetary seismologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, says that more seismometers should be put on the moon for a better insight into lunar events.

“Establishing a new network of seismometers on the lunar surface should be a priority for human exploration of the Moon, both to learn more about the Moon’s interior and to determine how much of a hazard moonquakes present,” he said.

The Team

Thomas R. Watters (lead author) – Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA

Renee C. Weber (co-author) – NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA

Geoffrey C. Collins (co-author) – Physics and Astronomy Department, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, USA

Ian J. Howley (co-author) – NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, USA

Nicholas C. Schmerr (co-author) – the University of Maryland, Department of Geology, College Park, MD, USA

Catherine L. Johnson (co-author) – Dept. of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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From The Editors Science

Blue Origin Unveils Full-Scale Mock-Up of Lunar Lander ‘Blue Moon’

In an invitation-only event at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC., members of the press and space industry representatives witnessed the unveiling of a life-size mock-up of ‘Blue Moon’ – spaceflight company Blue Origin’s lunar lander.

The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says Blue Moon is capable of carrying 3.6 metric tons of large payloads, including rovers, satellites, and scientific equipment to the lunar surface.

Also, a subsequent “stretch tank” version with a 6.5-ton payload capacity will be able to put astronauts back on the moon by as early as 2024.

“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the Moon,” Bezos said after the historic reveal, adding: “If that does not inspire you, you are at the wrong event.”

Bezos also revealed a new BE-7 engine that will power both versions of the lander with a thrust of 10,000 lb using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, instead of a storable hypergolic propellant.

“It’s very high performance,” says Bezos. “Ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon, and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon.”

The advantage of using liquid hydrogen is manifold; not only can its boiloff be used as a coolant for the liquid oxygen, but it can also be fed into a fuel cell system where it can generate enough electricity to power the lander during the two-week long lunar nights.

“We chose hydrogen fuel cells for this vehicle rather than solar cells because we want to be able to survive the lunar night,” he said.

Blue Moon’s fuel-loaded lift-off weight of 33,000 lb will reduce to about 7,000 lb at the time of lunar touchdown.

Bezos has always had a fascination with space and the limitless possibilities it holds, with an early interest in the idea of “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2-3 million people orbiting Earth.”

It was this obsession with space travel and exploration that led Bezos to found Blue Origin, back in 2000.

So, the Amazon billionaire didn’t really surprise anybody when speaking at the International Space Development Conference, in May last year, he said that his company Blue Origin was open to working with NASA, SpaceX or the European Space Agency (ESA) to realize his vision of colonizing space.

And, what better place to start than the moon, not only because of its proximity to Earth but also because of the presence of large deposits of water ice near its poles, not to mention the fact that the lunar surface gets plenty of sunlight.

Addressing a group of students at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Bezos stressed upon the importance of moving equipment and supplies and assembling them on the surface of the moon with the help of advanced robotics and machine learning, before humans can actually populate the place.

“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon, and it’s time to go back to the moon but this time to stay,” he said.

“And, there you’d want to preposition a whole bunch of equipment and supplies before the humans show up; and some of those things need to be assembled on the surface of the moon and that’s the kind of thing that could also be done by advanced robotics with machine learning systems on board,” Bezos added

There are other players, both private and government, who would likely be interested in partnering with Blue Origin, including SpaceX, although Elon Musk is more fixated on the red planet than the moon.

The European Space Agency’s ‘Moon Village’ vision is particularly appealing to Bezos, who says that the idea of building individual lunar outposts by different companies in close proximity to each other would lead to inter-lunar cooperation among different outposts, helping each other out in times of need.

“The Moon Village concept has a nice property in that everybody basically just says, look, everybody builds their own lunar outpost, but let’s do it close to each other,” Bezos said.

“That way, if you need a cup of sugar, you can go over to the European Union lunar outpost and say, ‘I got my powdered eggs, what have you got?’” he quipped.

“Obviously, I’m being silly with the eggs, but there will be real things, like, ‘Do you have some oxygen?’” he added.

Bezos is also convinced that there’s no better place than the moon for Earth’s heavy industry because in times to come, Earth will not remain the best place for it.

“The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry. It’s convenient for us right now, but in the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space because we’ll have so much energy,” he said.

The ever-increasing population and the resultant demand on the dwindling resources on Earth, plus the fact that there will be no dearth of solar-powered energy in space outposts, do give credence to Bezos lunar logic.

“We will have to leave this planet,” Bezos said. “We’re going to leave it, and it’s going to make this planet better,” he said, adding: “We’ll come and go, and the people who want to stay will stay.”

While the moon is where Bezos plans to start his space colonization from, for reasons already mentioned, his long-term vision encompasses solar-powered colonies in the solar-system with millions of people living and working in them. He even sees hollow asteroids as potential space outposts.

Bezos said that although he is committed to building the rockets and landers, he would be happy if other companies took over the responsibility of building rovers, habitable accommodation and all the other stuff necessary to colonize the moon on such a large scale.

“One of two things will happen,” he said. “Either other people will take over the vision, or I’ll run out of money.”

Considering he’s the richest man on Earth, it’s unlikely he’ll ever run out of money; on the contrary, he could end up becoming the richest man in space, as well.

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From The Editors Science

Cambridge Scientists to Adopt Radical Methods to Avert Imminent Climate Catastrophe

As a climate catastrophe looms larger than ever before, scientists at the Cambridge University are working on setting up a research center to find radical ways of fixing the planet’s rapidly deteriorating environment, before it spells our doom.

Desperate times call for desperate measures!

As clichéd and dramatic as it may sound, it’s probably what the Cambridge scientists had in mind when they took the much-needed initiative, which is being coordinated by Prof Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,” Sir David told the BBC News, adding: “There is no major center in the world that would be focused on this one big issue.”

Part of Cambridge university’s Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, the Center for Climate Repair is being headed by climate scientist and mathematician Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Research at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow at the British Arctic Survey.

“This really is one of the most important challenges of our time, and we know we need to be responding to it with all our efforts,” Shuckburgh told BBC News.

Concerns that the ongoing efforts alone will not make much of a difference in the fight against climate change has led to this new line of thinking, which is expected to stem the rot by drastically reducing CO2 emissions.

Some of the ideas that the researchers are looking forward to exploring include refreezing the polar regions, recycling carbon dioxide, and greening the oceans – collectively known as geoengineering.

Pole Refreezing

Conceptually, the approach is as simple as brightening/whitening the clouds above the polar regions to increase their ability to reflect heat back into space; it’s the implementation that may prove to be tricky.

The idea being proposed is to deploy unmanned ships with tall masts and pump seawater up the masts through special nozzles, thereby producing tiny salt particles that can then be sprayed into the clouds, making them more reflective.

Recycling Carbon Dioxide

If CO2 emissions from various sources could be harnessed and converted into synthetic fuel, a good portion of the world’s emission problems would be solved, but again, it’s the method that needs to be perfected.

Prof Peter Styring of the University of Sheffield – a researcher specializing in novel sorbents and processes for carbon dioxide capture, purification, and utilization – is working with Tata Steel on exactly such a pilot in Port Talbot in South Wales.

If all goes well, it would go a long way in making large-scale CO2 recycling a global reality.

“We have a source of hydrogen, we have a source of carbon dioxide, we have a source of heat and we have a source of renewable electricity from the plant,” Prof Styring told BBC News.

“We’re going to harness all those and we’re going to make synthetic fuels,” he added.

Ocean Greening

Greening the oceans by promoting the growth of vegetation such as algae and plankton on the surface is another approach under consideration.
The idea is to fertilize the oceans with iron salts which are known to stimulate such growth; the more the growth the more the absorption of CO2 from the air by way of photosynthesis.

Earlier attempts at ocean greening have shown that the amount CO2 absorbed is not enough to make the scheme worthy of the resources involved; plus, there’s the likelihood of upsetting the ecological balance.

But, don’t forget these are desperate times, and considering the enormity of the impending threat, all available options need to be revisited.

“Early in my career, people threw their hands up in horror at suggestions of more interventionist solutions to fix coral reefs,” Prof Callum Roberts of York University told BBC News.

“Now they are looking in desperation at an ecosystem that will be gone at the end of the century and now all options are on the table,” he said.

“At the moment, I happen to think that harnessing nature to mitigate climate change is a better way to go. But I do see the legitimacy of exploring [more radical] options as a means of steering us towards a better future,” added the professor.

A recent study, ranking the environmental targets of different countries, holds the climate change policies of dozens of them, including China, Russia, and Canada, responsible for the expected 5C-plus temperature rise by the end of the century.

Published in the journal Nature Communications in November last year, the paper reveals that these countries are not pursuing their climate change pledges to the United Nations sincerely enough to avoid an environmental catastrophe, which as of now is a foregone conclusion.

According to the Paris Agreement of December 2015, adopted within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), hundreds of countries pledged individual NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, toward a collective environmental goal.

The NDC calls for member countries to ensure that their individual contributions to climate change are ambitious, progressive and Agreement-centric enough to achieve the “aspirational levels” of 1.5 °C – 2 °C by 2100.

However, the authors note that the NDCs are self-serving and not in keeping with the Paris Agreement, as a result of which the aspirational level targets have little chance of being met.

“Current NDCs individually align, at best, with divergent concepts of equity and are collectively inconsistent with the Paris Agreement,” writes study head and lead author Yann Robiou du Pont from the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne, along with co-author and university colleague Malte Meinshausen.

If the existing state of affairs does not change soon enough, we could well be looking at a 2.3 °C increase in global temperatures by 2100,” say the authors.

“Extending such a self-interested bottom-up aggregation of equity might lead to a median 2100-warming of 2.3 °C,” they write.

Robiou du Pont and Meinshausen do, however, believe that “tightening the warming goal of each country’s effort-sharing approach to aspirational levels of 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C could achieve the 1.5 °C and well-below 2 °C-thresholds, respectively.”

Calling the suggested target revision a “new hybrid allocation,” the authors say that it’s a reconciliation between “the bottom-up nature of the Paris Agreement” and its “top-down warming thresholds and provides a temperature metric to assess NDCs.”

The UNFCCC objective of stabilizing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) concentrations, based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) to push global warming targets, is far from being met as portrayed by the NDCs.

“While the quest for a common understanding of what is a fair effort-sharing continues, rapidly falling technology costs of renewables and increasing mitigation co-benefits shift the attention away from effort-sharing considerations,” note the authors.

“However, current bottom-up NDCs do not add up to a global ambition consistent with the joint temperature goals,” they say, suggesting that “a 5-year stocktake requires all countries to pledge enhanced actions and support.”

Per the current NDCs, India is leading the pack with a warming target of 2.6 °C, which is rather impressive considering it only marginally exceeds the upper target threshold of 2C.

“The greenest countries on this assessment are the least developed,” The Independent quotes Robiou du Pont as having said.

“Given that they pollute so much less, have polluted so much less and have low per capita GDP, they could increase their emissions to some extent, and that would be fair,” Robiou du Pont told the online newspaper.

The industrialized nations, on the other hand, are the poor performers, with China and major energy exporters like Saudi Arabia, Canada and Russia among the top offenders with their NDCs leading to a potentially catastrophic 5C-plus warming.

“Many industrialized countries perform poorly. After all, we know that industrialisation brought climate change,” Robiou du Pont told The Independent, adding that it did not mean that these countries could not take corrective measures.

Among the countries pursuing policies that are likely to lead the planet to a 4C temperature jump, are Australia (heavily dependent on coal exports) and the United States, which is looking to balance its industry, energy and agricultural emissions by encouraging more renewables.

Slightly better-off are EU countries, with most of them producing emissions that would raise the planet’s temperatures by 3C.

“It is interesting is to see how far out some countries are, even those that are considered leaders in the climate mitigation narrative,” the Guardian quoted Robiou du Pont as saying.

It is, therefore, heartening to know that initiatives like the Center for Climate Repair are being undertaken and that serious efforts are being made to save the planet from an imminent ecological disaster.

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From The Editors Technology

Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Thinks It’s Time to Break Up the Company

In an opinion piece, published Thursday (May 9) in The New York Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has called for regulators to break up the company.

Hughes blames the company’s slipshod privacy practices, violent rhetoric, fake news, and its lackadaisical response to Russian propaganda for the sharp decline in “Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook” in the last couple of years.

Despite the fact that Hughes co-founded Facebook fifteen years ago and hasn’t been a part of the company in any capacity in a decade, he feels “a sense of anger and responsibility” for the way the company has gone about conducting its affairs.

According to Hughes, Zuckerberg’s obsession for growth, even if it came at the expense of security and ethics, led him to misuse the overwhelming influence and unbridled power he wields in the company.

“Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government,” writes Hughes, going on to add that Zuckerberg is the sole deciding authority when it comes to Facebook’s algorithm configurations.

It effectively means that he is the one who determines “what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.”

“I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders,” he adds.

And the fact that the people around Mark are of the yes-sir-you’re-right-sir kind; a support team that “reinforces his beliefs” rather than question them; is rather worrying, Hughes laments.

Not too long ago, Zuckerberg was under tremendous investor pressure to step down as Facebook chairman after an NYT report accused the company of hiring a Washington-based consultant, Definers Public Affairs, to malign its critics and competitors.

According to the report, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros.”

The NYT investigation also revealed that Facebook didn’t even spare its business relationships, “lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

The report went on to claim that a Definers affiliate called NTK Network – a conservative news site – ran dozens of articles attacking tech giants Apple and Google for indulging in “unsavory business practices.”

In fact, one particular story went to the extent of calling Apple CEO Tim Cook “hypocritical” for criticizing Facebook over privacy concerns, when the Cupertino-based company itself collects “reams of data from users.”

While an embattled Zuckerberg was still reeling from the NYT assault, another damaging piece by Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan came along to add to the man’s miseries.

Calling him an incapable leader of “the broken behemoth that is Facebook,” Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg hides, denies, blame-shifts and “speaks in the worst kind of fuzzy corporate clichés.”

Citing what she called “two stunning pieces of journalism,” including the NYT story and another by feature writer Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, she said that Facebook is like a “rudderless ship sailing toward the apocalypse — and we’re all along for the ride.”

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” Facebook investor and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer was quoted by Business Insider as saying, at the time.

All of Facebook’s woes can, essentially, be traced back to the “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which surfaced in March 2018.

Facebook reportedly harvested the data of some 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica, however, denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.

According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica.

The consultancy, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign; not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends.

Coming back to Thursday’s opinion piece, Hughes has also called for the creation of a dedicated agency to keep a strict vigil on tech companies.

Unhappy with Facebook’s monopolistic approach, and that’s putting it mildly, he suggests that the company should be broken up into multiple companies, and also forced to reverse its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp to create a level playing field.

“First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. The F.T.C., in conjunction with the Justice Department, should enforce antitrust laws by undoing the Instagram and WhatsApp acquisitions and banning future acquisitions for several years,” Hughes suggests.

Citing the antitrust claims against Whole Foods, which it settled by selling off Wild Oats brand and stores, he says that it’s still not too late for the Federal Trade Commission to act.

Hughes’ piece was bound to raise a few hackles in the Menlo Park company, and it did.

In a statement published by CNN’s Hadas Gold, former UK deputy prime minister and the current global affairs head at Facebook, Nick Clegg, said:

“Facebook accepts that success comes accountability. But “But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company.” 

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From The Editors Technology

Key Takeaways From Microsoft Build 2019 – the Company’s Annual Developer Conference

The recently concluded Microsoft Build 2019 – the tech giant’s annual conference for developers and IT professionals – was held from May 6 to May 8 at the  Washington State Convention Center in Downtown Seattle, Washington.

More than 6,000 technologists, developers and business leaders, representing thousands of organizations from across the globe, attended the three-day event.

The conference kicked off with an insightful keynote address by CEO Satya Nadella, who touched upon the company’s achievement in its various divisions, including Azure, Cortana, Office 365, Xbox, and Edge, to name a few.

Following the lead of other tech giants like Facebook, Google and Apple, the Redmond-based company appeared to be more focussed on discouraging users, including business people, from over-indulgence in screen time.

The new features being built into most of the company’s services is indicative of this new approach, in terms of delivering more user- and developer-friendly products, rather than giving great technology that may not find practicality with many people.

“I do believe Microsoft is making real changes to focus on what I would call ‘technology that solves real problems’ versus staring at the amazement of technology that some may not want,” Moore Insights & Strategy president Patrick Moorhead was quoted by Engadget as having said.

“This is a pragmatic shift and I know goes all the way up to Satya. Apple for consumer markets has been good at this and Google is getting better at this but still has some tech for tech’s sake,” he told the technology blog.

Today’s Microsoft is not the Microsoft we knew of before Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer as CEO in early 2014.

The incoming CEO’s approach was to focus primarily on bringing the company’s products and services to platforms people preferred, rather than trying to force unnecessary technology on them.

This user-driven push was glaringly obvious, and excitingly so, in practically all the new features announced for the company’s various products and services, including Edge, AI, Office 365 and Azure, among others.

After having worked with Chromium open source – the force behind Google Chrome – to enhance the user experience of its proprietary browser Edge, Microsoft is now bringing Internet Explorer to the browser by way of a new tab.

The company is also adding a new privacy feature to the browser by giving users three security options to choose from – Unrestricted, Balanced and Strict – for a more transparent and personalized experience.

Depending on the option chosen, Edge will control how third parties keep a tab on you across the internet.

‘Collections’ is another upcoming feature on Edge that will allow you to collate, share and export content as neatly formatted documents with Office integration.

At Microsoft Ignite last year, the company announced several new AI features for MS Office – one of the most extensively used office suites in the world – including “Ideas.”

Basically, “Ideas” uses AI to make life easier for users trying to create documents in Office applications by suggesting ideas, design changes, and other useful tips, which not only helps in creating the perfect document but speeds up the work as well, thereby increasing employee productivity.

For example, when you’re trying to create a PowerPoint presentation, “Ideas,” which can be accessed with a single click of the mouse, suggests layouts, images you can insert, and other useful tips that are sure to improve the quality of your presentation.

Excel also got the AI boost, allowing it to recommend charts and identify data outliers, thereby helping users with tasks like a virtual assistant.

The company is now bringing this useful feature to Word, which would take it way beyond spell check.

It will suggest grammar corrections, better phrasing, and even more inclusive language, all of which will contribute toward making you a better writer over a period of time.

“For AI features, there has to be a minimum bar of quality for you to trust it,” Malavika Rewari – Senior Product Marketing Manager, Office Intelligence – told Engadget.

She added: “We don’t release something unless it’s meeting that bar.

“And we release it in phases: First we dogfood [test] internally within Microsoft and do a lot of usability studies

“We then go to early adopters, Insider programs and early release programs, where we go to a more diverse data set.

“And then we go to consumers and then commercial users.”

The company is also working on improving the Cortana experience by making it a smarter, more interactive assistant rather than something you shout out standard commands to – thanks to Semantic Machines, a Berkeley, California-based natural language startup Microsoft acquired last year.

“Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level,” the company wrote in a May 2018 blog.

If the demo at the conference is anything to go by, the new, more human-like Cortana will allow you to talk to it more conversationally, without having to phrase commands.

“The next generation of intelligent assistant technologies from Microsoft will be able to do this by leveraging breakthroughs in conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning pioneered by Semantic Machines,” says Microsoft.

Another announcement that merits a mention is the Fluid Framework concept that has the potential to revolutionize the way we work with documents.

It will allow you to break down your documents into different components that can be included in other documents.

To give an example, you can take a part of Word document and drop it into another document, and any changes made to it will reflect on the original file in real time.

Developers can have a go at it later this year when Microsoft launches a Fluid Framework software development kit.

While there were many other significant announcements at the show, the point to reiterate is the fact that the company is now working on finding ways to make its products and services more people-centric.

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From The Editors Technology

Google Employees Worldwide Stage Sit-in to Protest Retaliation at Workplace

Google employees held a #NotOKGoogle sit-in on Monday (May 1) at offices around the world to protest against the so-called “culture of retaliation” being pursued by the company against workers for staging a #GoogleWalkout last year.

“From being told to go on sick leave when you’re not sick, to having your reports taken away, we’re sick of retaliation,” organizers of the ‘Google Walkout For Real Change’ tweeted. “Six months ago, we walked out. This time, we’re sitting in. 11am tomorrow.”

“Today, Googlers from around the world are gathering at 11 am local time to sit together and show retaliation is #NotOkGoogle,” the organizers said in another tweet.

“The stories we’ve been collecting will be shared, our demands will be read, and all will be in solidarity with those withstanding this chilling practice.”

The sit-in comes a week after the organizers released a letter, accusing the Sundar Pichai-led company of pursuing a “culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color, and gender minorities.”

Signed by Meredith Whittaker, Claire Stapleton, and 10 others, the letter goes on to say: “Retaliation isn’t always obvious. It’s often confusing and drawn out, consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions.”

Whittaker is the head of Google’s Open Research Group and the Google Measurement Lab, while Stapleton is the marketing manager at YouTube.

The Mountain View tech giant, however, declined to comment on the sit-in when approached by Tech Crunch and Fox News other than give a standard scripted statement, which said:

“We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy. To make sure that no complaint raised goes unheard at Google, we give employees multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation.”

Last year, more than 20,000 Google employees around the world staged a walk-out, following a damaging New York Times report on the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software.

The en-masse walk-out was also a protest against pay inequality and abuse of power to victimize employees that did not tow the company line.

“We were disgusted by the details of the recent New York Times article, which provided the latest example of a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power,” the #GoogleWalkout organizers told Fox News at the time.

“Sadly, this is part of a longstanding problem, one further amplified by systemic racism. We know this culture well,” the statement said.

Both Whittaker and Stapleton have allegedly been victimized for organizing the #GoogleWalkout, leaving them with no option but to call for the #NotOKGoogle sit-in to protest the injustices meted out to them and others, since.

In fact, last month, Whittaker posted a message to a number of internal Google mailing lists, accusing the company of disbanding its external AI ethics council earlier in the month.

She was allegedly told that she would lose her job if she didn’t “abandon” her role at AI Now Institute and her work on AI ethics.

Stapleton said she was threatened with demotion two months after the walk-out and faced even more retaliation when she brought the matter to the notice of Human Resources.

“My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I’m not sick,” Stapleton wrote

Although the company was forced to conduct an investigation and reverse the demotion decision after she hired a lawyer, the environment remained “hostile.”

“While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day,” she wrote.

Employee protests at Google appear to have become a recurrent feature of late, as there was another protest between the #GoogleWalkout and the #NotOkGoogle that comes to mind.

About a month after the #GoogleWalkOut, an employee backlash over the company’s clandestine ‘Dragonfly’ search engine project in China snowballed into near- unmanageable proportions for the tech giant.

Ever since the company’s secret and highly questionable project in China was exposed in August, the search engine titan had faced fierce criticism from investigative journalists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, in addition to mounting dissent among its own workforce.

An open letter demanding the immediate scrapping of the controversial tailored-version of Google’s popular search engine for China was published online late last year.

What started off as a 10-signatory letter entitled “We are Google employees. Google must drop Dragonfly,” was later backed by hundreds of signatories, which kept growing as murkier details continued to emerge.

The  letter started with a categorical demand to halt Dragonfly, calling the project “Google’s effort to create a censored search engine for the Chinese market that enables state surveillance.”

“We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months,” read the letter.

“International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project,” it continued. “So far, our leadership’s response has been unsatisfactory.”

“Many of us accepted employment at Google with the company’s values in mind, including its previous position on Chinese censorship and surveillance, and an understanding that Google was a company willing to place its values above its profits,” the letter read.

“After a year of disappointments including Project Maven, Dragonfly, and Google’s support for abusers, we no longer believe this is the case. This is why we’re taking a stand.”

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From The Editors Science

Threat From Asteroid Strikes is Not Only about Movies; It’s for Real, Says NASA Chief

In his keynote address at the 2019 IAA Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland, USA, on Monday (April 29), NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that the threat to Earth from asteroid strikes was as real as it gets.

He urged the international space community to create awareness among people that devastation from asteroid strikes was not only about what Hollywood shows us but about defending Earth – the only habitat we know of.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine was quoted by Space.com as having said at the conference.

“This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth,” said the NASA head.

As part of the  “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan” announced in June last year, this gathering of NASA, FEMA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the International Asteroid Warning Network representatives, among others, will conclude on May 3.

The five-day event will see the participants conduct an “asteroid impact exercise,” playing out mock impact scenarios to enhance preparedness for the real thing if, or should we say when, it does happen.

Asteroid expert Andrew Rivkin – a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, told NBC News MACH in an email that “exercises like this have been run at several conferences over the years, and government agencies have also ​had them.”

“It’s definitely worth doing, if only so people are aware of the issues and how complex some of them are,” he wrote.

Comparing the exercise to a fire drill, Rivkin said that the aftermath of a major asteroid hit would be catastrophic if what happened to the dinosaurs is anything to go by.

He was, obviously, referring to the six-mile-wide asteroid that hit our planet some 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs from the face of the Earth – or, so it is believed.

But. we need not end up like the dinosaurs, or the other species that went with them, because we have the necessary resources at our disposal; we just have to make the most of them.

“We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space program. But we do, and we need to use it,” Bridenstine said.

But, why go so far back in time to emphasize the threat we’re exposed to, when the recent Chelyabinsk Event is scary enough to justify all the good things, including the ongoing conference, being done to minimize the probabilities of a repeat.

The 66-foot-wide supersonic meteor smashed into the atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, sending shockwaves so powerful that at least 1,500 people were injured and more than 7,000 buildings in six cities were damaged.

“I wish I could tell you that these events are exceptionally unique, but they are not,” Bridenstine said about the Chelyabinsk Event.

“These events are not rare — they happen. It’s up to us to make sure that we are characterizing, detecting, tracking all of the near-Earth objects that could be a threat to the world,” he added.

The aforementioned Federal ‘preparedness strategy and action plan’ notwithstanding, there’s a lot that still needs to be done in terms of increased monitoring systems across the globe, for which international cooperation is the need of the hour, says Bridenstine.

“We’re only about a third of the way there,” he said, adding: “We want more international partners that can join us in this effort.

“We want more systems on the face of the Earth that can detect and track these objects, and we want to be able to feed all of that data into one single operating system so that ultimately, we have the best, most accurate data that we can possibly get.”

NASA knows that merely chasing these potential threats is not going to save Earth from another mass extinction and, probably, thousands of years of ice-age, should one of them slam into us.

The good news is that the agency has been working on a planetary-defense mission called DART, an acronym for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, to save us from exactly such an eventuality.

DART is essentially an impactor spacecraft that NASA plans to crash into an asteroid satellite at 13,500 miles per hour in an effort to change its course.

The idea is to find out how much the car-sized impactor can change the trajectory of the target space rock and whether it’s enough to redirect an Earth-bound asteroid safely away from us.

The space rock that NASA has in its crosshairs for the planned Oct 2022 hit is, in fact, a satellite moonlet nicknamed Didymoon, about seven million miles away from Earth.

Measuring 150 meters across, the moonlet orbits an 800-meter-wide asteroid called Didymos, from where it derives its nickname.

While Didymoon is not on a collision course with Earth and poses no threat to us whatsoever, a detailed study of the space object, and then slamming into it to bump it off its bearings, should provide the DART team with useful data that can come in handy in averting a real asteroid threat, if ever it came to that.

Not only will ground telescopes track the new course of the twin objects post-impact, but an Italian Space Agency CubeSat called ‘Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids’ will accompany the mission to keep an eye on proceedings.

Additionally, as part of an international Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch two CubeSats, APEX (Asteroid Prospection Explorer) and Juventas, onboard the agency’s Hera spacecraft, in time to reach the binary asteroid system sometime in 2026 to record the effects of the DART collision, according to NASA.

To test potential techniques in “deflecting” an asteroid – one of the preferred methods for mitigating a threat – DART will travel to the Didymos binary asteroid system via its a xenon-based electric propulsion system, steering with an onboard camera and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” says NASA.

DART is expected to send back a close-up shot of the Didymoon surface – its last transmission to Earth – just before it is pulverized into space dust.

For any Solar System body to qualify as a near-Earth object, its closest approach to the Sun has to be less than 1.3 astronomical units (AU), the equivalent of nearly 121 million miles.

Among the 20,000 near-Earth asteroids and comets orbiting the Sun is a 500-meter-wide asteroid called Bennu, which has a 1-in-2,700 chance of smashing into Earth sometime between 2175 and 2196, say scientists.

The potentially hazardous object (PHO), “listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale,” is currently 54 million miles from Earth.

For all we know, Bennu might just turn out be the asteroid that NASA has to knock off-course to save the planet in the future; that’s when the knowledge gained from the DART mission will come in handy – unless the 500-meter rock, or some other NEO, hits us sooner.

Honestly, that’s unlikely, but time will tell.

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From The Editors Science

Should Pluto’s Planet Status Be Reinstated? The Debate Still Rages in the Astronomical Community

Pluto, the icy body in the outer reaches of the solar system, was considered the ninth planet in the system from the time it was discovered in 1930 up until 2006, when it was controversially reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) – the global authority for naming and designating celestial objects.

The IAU has since been at the receiving end by many scientists and astronomers who disagree with the union’s decision and have fiercely advocated for Pluto’s planetary status to be reinstated.

The contentious decision was based on the definition of a planet, which many scientists argue has been inconsistently applied in the case of Pluto.

In a scientific paper published in the journal Icarus in September last year, a group of scientists, led by the study’s main author Philip Metzger – a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida – maintain that the IAU’s definition of a planet is not in the interest of science and, hence, should be revisited.

“What we’re doing is fact-checking,” Metzger, was quoted by NBC News as having said.

“There are 120 examples I found of scientists in the recently published literature violating the IAU definition, calling something a planet even though the IAU definition says it’s not a planet,” he said.

“The reason planetary scientists do this is because the IAU definition is not useful for science,” Metzger added.

Pluto’s planetary status came into question in 2005 when astronomers at the California Institute of Astronomy (Caltech) –  a private doctorate-granting research university in Pasadena, California – discovered a Pluto-like celestial object in the distant solar system.

The object, which came to be known as Eres, was touted as a new addition to the planetary line-up at the time, but when more such objects were discovered in the Kuiper-belt neighborhood, the astronomical community was in a quandary over the definition of a planet.

Several definitions were considered and reconsidered before IAU called a press conference in Prague, in 2006, to give a new meaning to the term “planet,” thereby stripping Pluto of its planetary status and downgrading it to a “dwarf planet.”

The new resolution stated that in order for a solar system object in to qualify as a planet, it needed to meet three conditions:

  • It has to orbit the sun
  • It has to be rounded by its own gravity, for which it has to be large enough to allow its gravitation pull to shape it into a sphere
  • It has to be pretty much the only object in its orbit, meaning it has to be gravitationally dominant-enough to have evicted most objects in its orbital vicinity.

While Pluto meets the first two criteria hands down, it falls short of qualifying as a planet when it comes to the third condition, because its orbit is littered with other icy bodies exerting their own gravitational forces.

Although thirteen years have passed since that eventful September day when Pluto ceased to be a planet and became a “dwarf planet,” the debate over the controversial definition and Pluto’s standing in the planetary hierarchy still rages on in the astronomical community.

NASA’s principal investigator for New Horizons mission to Pluto, Alan Stern, and other like-minded scientists have rubbished the revised definition, saying that it is flawed and needs to be reversed.

Writing in The Washington Post in May 2018, Stern and co-author of the article, David Grinspoon – an American astrobiologist and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona – stated that the IAU’s definition of a planet was “deeply flawed.”

“The process for redefining planet was deeply flawed and widely criticized even by those who accepted the outcome,” wrote Stern and Grinspoon.

“For one thing, it defines a planet as an object orbiting around our sun — thereby disqualifying the planets around other stars, ignoring the exoplanet revolution, and decreeing that essentially all the planets in the universe are not, in fact, planets,” they said.

“To add insult to injury, they amended their convoluted definition with the vindictive and linguistically paradoxical statement that “a dwarf planet is not a planet.” This seemingly served no purpose but to satisfy those motivated by a desire — for whatever reason — to ensure that Pluto was “demoted” by the new definition,” they wrote.

In fact, Stern was scheduled to debate Ron Ekers – former IAU president (2003 to 2006) – at the Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club on the definition of a planet and Pluto’s classification in our solar system in Washington, DC, on Monday.

Kuiper Belt

Kuiper Belt is the ring-shaped accumulation of matter made up gas, dust, planetesimals, asteroids, or collision debris – also known as the circumstellar disk – in the far reaches of the solar system.

It is home to three known dwarf planets, including Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake, in addition to other icy objects.

Ultima Thule is the latest Kuiper Belt object (KBO), which NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by as recently as New Year’s Day this year.

When it was thirty-three minutes past midnight in New York; when the ball had already dropped in Times Square to usher in 2019; when parties were in full swing across the city; history was made four billion miles out in space.

Technically, history happened in the blink of an eye, as NASA spacecraft New Horizons zipped past the tiny KBO at a lusty speed of 32,280 miles per hour – that’s 9 miles in a second, to put things in perspective.

However, confirmation of the historic flyby came only after an agonizing wait of six hours and eight minutes – that’s how long it took the radio signal from the robotic craft to travel through the void of space before it was plucked from the air by a NASA deep space radio dish in Madrid.

Coming back to the Pluto debate, Stern and Grinspoon summed it up extremely well when they wrote:

“The word “planet” predates and transcends science. Language is malleable and responsive to culture. Words are not defined by voting. Neither is scientific paradigm.”