Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution On Nuclear Weapons In Space

This week Russia vetoed a UN resolution that proposed banning nuclear weapons in space, CNN reports.

But it all happened “amid U.S. intelligence-backed concerns that Moscow is trying to develop a nuclear device capable of destroying satellites.”

In February, President Joe Biden confirmed the US has intelligence that Russia is developing a nuclear anti-satellite capability. Three sources familiar with the intelligence subsequently told CNN the weapon could destroy satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated…

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Wednesday’s vote “marks a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations.” A US and Japan-drafted resolution had received cross-regional support from more than 60 member states. It intended to strengthen and uphold the global non-proliferation regime, including in outer space, and reaffirm the shared goal of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes. It also called on UN member states not to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction designed to be placed in Earth’s orbit….

Experts say this kind of weapon could have the potential to wipe out mega constellations of small satellites, like SpaceX’s Starlink, which has been successfully used by Ukraine to counter Russian troops. This would almost certainly be “a last-ditch weapon” for Russia, the US official and other sources said — because it would do the same damage to whatever Russian satellites were also in the area.

The article notes that in March Russian President Vladimir Putin “told officials that space projects, including the setup of a nuclear power unit in space, should be a priority and receive proper financing.”

Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for sharing the news.

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How the European Space Agency Celebrated April Fool’s Day

The European Space Agency has a Planetary Defence Office, which includes its Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre. “It has come to our attention,” they wrote in the April edition of their monthly newsletter, “that a recent trend among journalists has been to come up with creative comparisons to convey the size of an asteroid to the public.”

So then, as explained by RockDoctor (Slashdot reader #15,477) “they propose a number of standardised units of comparison for journalists describing ‘death from the skies'”.

An excerpt from that April 1 newsletter:
In the absence of a handy skyscraper, animals commonly used have included giraffes, corgis and an entire colony of penguins. But how do these comparisons stack up? Let’s look at some of our favourite unusual suspects:
– Corgi: At around 30 cm tall, a space rock the size of a corgi wouldn’t pose much of
a threat.
– Half a giraffe: An adult giraffe can reach up to 5.5 metres in height, so half a giraffe
would be about 2.75 metres. While not as impressive as a full skyscraper, an
asteroid that size could certainly destroy a building or two…
– Elephants: An adult African elephant can reach 7 metres at the shoulder. Ninety
elephants stacked on top of each other would form a staggering pile over 630
metres high, creating a devastating but probably not planet-ending event.

As this menagerie of animals can cause a lot of confusion, we at the NEOCC
recommend the use of a Standardised Giraffe Unit (SGU, 1 SGU = 5 penguins) for ease
of comparison.

RockDoctor shares this additional thought in his original submission about the newly proposed standardized unit.

“The world may be turtles all the way down, but it’s giraffes all the way up.”

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Scientists Complete Construction of the Biggest Digital Camera Ever

Isaac Schultz reports via Gizmodo: Nine years and 3.2 billion pixels later, it is complete: the LSST Camera stands as the largest digital camera ever built for astronomy and will serve as the centerpiece of the Vera Rubin Observatory, poised to begin its exploration of the southern skies. The Rubin Observatory’s key goal is the 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), a sweeping, near-constant observation of space. This endeavor will yield 60 petabytes of data on the composition of the universe, the nature and distribution of dark matter, dark energy and the expansion of the universe, the formation of our galaxy, our intimate little solar system, and more. The camera will use its 5.1-foot-wide optical lens to take a 15-second exposure of the sky every 20 seconds, automatically changing filters to view light in every wavelength from near-ultraviolet to the near-infrared. Its constant monitoring of the skies will eventually amount to a timelapse of the heavens; it will highlight fleeting events for other scientists to train their telescopes on, and monitor changes in the southern sky.

To do this, the team needed a Rolls Royce of a digital camera. Mind you, the camera actually cost many million times that of an actual Royce Royce, and at 6,200 pounds (2,812 kilograms), it weighs a lot more than a fancy car. Each of the 21 rafts that makes up the camera’s focal plane is the price of a Maserati, and are worth every penny if they collect the sort of data scientists expect them to. “I’m personally most excited to study the expansion of the Universe using gravitational lenses to better understand Dark Energy,” said Aaron Roodman, a physicist at SLAC and lead on the camera program, in an email to Gizmodo. “That means two things: 1) measuring the brightness in all six of our filters of literally billions of galaxies and very carefully measuring their shape, which has been subtly altered by the bending of light by matter, and 2) discovering and studying very special objects where a distant quasar is almost perfectly lined up with a more nearby galaxy.”

Speaking through a SLAC release, Rodman said the camera’s images could “resolve a golf ball from around 15 miles away, while covering a swath of the sky seven times wider than the full moon.” The first images from the Rubin Observatory are slated to be publicly released in March 2025, which feels like a long way away. But several important agenda items still need to happen. For one, the SLAC team has to ship the LSST camera safely to Chile from its current lodgings in northern California. (Don’t worry — they’ve made a test run of the journey.) Then, the observatory’s mirrors need to be readied for testing and the observatory’s dome has to be completed, among some other tasks. But whenever all that is complete, the legacy survey will launch into a decade’s worth of scientific discovery. Rubin Observatory estimates suggest that LSST could “increase the number of known objects by a factor of 10,” according to a SLAC release.

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Ultra-Large Structure Discovered In Distant Space Challenges Cosmological Principle

“The discovery of a second ultra-large structure in the remote universe has further challenged some of the basic assumptions about cosmology,” writes SciTechDaily:

The Big Ring on the Sky is 9.2 billion light-years from Earth. It has a diameter of about 1.3 billion light-years, and a circumference of about four billion light-years. If we could step outside and see it directly, the diameter of the Big Ring would need about 15 full Moons to cover it.

It is the second ultra-large structure discovered by University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) PhD student Alexia Lopez who, two years ago, also discovered the Giant Arc on the Sky. Remarkably, the Big Ring and the Giant Arc, which is 3.3 billion light-years across, are in the same cosmological neighborhood — they are seen at the same distance, at the same cosmic time, and are only 12 degrees apart on the sky. Alexia said: “Neither of these two ultra-large structures is easy to explain in our current understanding of the universe. And their ultra-large sizes, distinctive shapes, and cosmological proximity must surely be telling us something important — but what exactly?

“One possibility is that the Big Ring could be related to Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs). BAOs arise from oscillations in the early universe and today should appear, statistically at least, as spherical shells in the arrangement of galaxies. However, detailed analysis of the Big Ring revealed it is not really compatible with the BAO explanation: the Big Ring is too large and is not spherical.” Other explanations might be needed, explanations that depart from what is generally considered to be the standard understanding in cosmology…

And if the Big Ring and the Giant Arc together form a still larger structure then the challenge to the Cosmological Principle becomes even more compelling… Alexia said, “From current cosmological theories we didn’t think structures on this scale were possible. ”

Possible explanations include a Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, or the effect of cosmic strings passing through…
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for sharing the article.

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New Paper on ‘MOND’ Argues That Gravity Changes At Very Low Accelerations

porkchop_d_clown (Slashdot reader #39,923) writes:
MOND — MOdified Newtonian Dynamics is a hypothesis that Newton’s law of gravity is incorrect under some conditions. Now a paper claims that a study does indeed show that pairs of widely separated binary stars do show a deviation from Newton’s Second Law, arguing that, at very low levels, gravity is stronger than the law predicts.
Phys.org writes that the study “reinforces the evidence for modified gravity that was previously reported in 2023 from an analysis of the orbital motions of gravitationally bound, widely separated (or long-period) binary stars, known as wide binaries.”

But RockDoctor (Slashdot reader #15,477) calls the hypothesis “very much disputed.”
YouTubing-astrophysicist Dr Becky considered this report a couple of months ago (2023-Nov-09), under the title “HUGE blow for alternate theory of gravity MOND”. At the very least, astrophysicists and cosmologists are deeply undecided whether this data supports or discourages MOND. (Shortened comment because verification problem.)

Last week, I updated my annual count of MOND and other “alternative gravity” publications. While research on MOND (and others) continues, and any “suppression” the tin-foil-hat brigade want to scream about is ineffective, it remains an unpopular (not-equal-to “suppressed”) field. Generally, astronomical publication counts are increasing, and MOND sticks with that trend. If anything is becoming more popular, it’s the “MOG” type of “MOdified Gravity”.

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Space Scientists Reveal Brightest Gamma Explosion Ever

It was 10 times brighter than any previously detected, reports the BBC, noting it illuminated much of the galaxy.

RockDoctor (Slashdot reader #15,477) writes: A recent paper on ArXiv describes a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) whose light arrived late last year as one of the strongest ever observed. GRB 221009A was detected on October 9 last year (yes, that number is a date), so 5 and a bit months from event to papers published is remarkably quick, and I anticipate that there will be a lot more papers on it in the future. Stand-out points are :
– it lasted for more than ten hours after detection (a space x-ray telescope had time to orbit out of the Earth’s shadow and observe it)

– it could (briefly) be observed by amateur astronomers.
– it is also one of the closest gamma-ray bursts seen and is among the most energetic and luminous bursts.

It’s redshift is given as z= 0.151, which Wikipedia translates as occurring 1.9 billion years ago, at a distance of 2.4 billion light-years from Earth.
Observations have been made of the burst in radio telescopes (many sites, continuing), optical (1 site ; analysis of HST imaging is still in work), ultraviolet (1 space telescope), x-ray (2 space telescopes) and gamma ray (1 sapce telescope) — over a range of 1,000,000,000,000,000-fold (10^15) in wavelength. It’s brightness is such that radio observatories are expected to continue to detect it for “years to come”.
The model of the source is of several (3~10) Earth-masses of material ejected from (whatever, probably a compact body (neutron star or black dwarf) merger) and impacting the interstellar medium at relativistic speeds (Lorentz factor 9, velocity >99.2% of c). The absolute brightness of the burst is high (about 10^43 J) and it is made to seem brighter by being close, and also by the energy being emitted in a narrow jet (“beamed”), which we happen to be near the axis of.
General news sites are starting to notice the reports, including the hilarious acronym of “BOAT — Brightest Of All Time”. Obviously, with observations having only occurred for about 50 years. we’re likely to see something else as bright within the next 50 years.
The brightness of the x-rays from this GRB is such that the x-rays scattered from dust in our galaxy creates halos around the source — which are bright enough to see, and to tell us things about the dust in our galaxy (which is generally very hard to see). Those images are more photogenic than the normal imagery for GRBs — which is nothing — so you’ll see them a lot.

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Webb Telescope’s Discovery of Massive Early Galaxies Still Defies Prior Understanding of Universe

Pennsylvania State University has an announcement. “Six massive galaxies discovered in the early universe are upending what scientists previously understood about the origins of galaxies in the universe.”

“These objects are way more massiveâ than anyone expected,” said Joel Leja, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, who modeled light from these galaxies. “We expected only to find tiny, young, baby galaxies at this point in time, but we’ve discovered galaxies as mature as our own in what was previously understood to be the dawn of the universe.”

Using the first dataset released from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the international team of scientists discovered objects as mature as the Milky Way when the universe was only 3% of its current age, about 500-700 million years after the Big Bang…. In a paper published February 22 in Nature, the researchers show evidence that the six galaxies are far more massive than anyone expected and call into question what scientists previously understood about galaxy formation at the very beginning of the universe. “The revelation that massive galaxy formation began extremely early in the history of the universe upends what many of us had thought was settled science,” said Leja. “We’ve been informally calling these objects ‘universe breakers’ — and they have been living up to their name so far.”

Leja explained that the galaxies the team discovered are so massive that they are in tension with 99% of models for cosmology. Accounting for such a high amount of mass would require either altering the models for cosmology or revising the scientific understanding of galaxy formation in the early universe — that galaxies started as small clouds of stars and dust that gradually grew larger over time. Either scenario requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of how the universe came to be, he added. “We looked into the very early universe for the first time and had no idea what we were going to find,” Leja said. “It turns out we found something so unexpected it actually creates problems for science. It calls the whole picture of early galaxy formation into question.”
“My first thought was we had made a mistake and we would just find it and move on with our lives,” Leja says in the statement. “But we have yet to find that mistake, despite a lot of trying.”

“While the data indicates they are likely galaxies, I think there is a real possibility that a few of these objects turn out to be obscured supermassive black holes. Regardless, the amount of mass we discovered means that the known mass in stars at this period of our universe is up to 100 times greater than we had previously thought. Even if we cut the sample in half, this is still an astounding change.”

Phys.org got a more detailed explantion from one of the paper’s co-authors:
It took our home galaxy the entire life of the universe for all its stars to assemble. For this young galaxy to achieve the same growth in just 700 million years, it would have had to grow around 20 times faster than the Milky Way, said Labbe, a researcher at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology. For there to be such massive galaxies so soon after the Big Bang goes against the current cosmological model which represents science’s best understanding of how the universe works. According to theory, galaxies grow slowly from very small beginnings at early times,” Labbe said, adding that such galaxies were expected to be between 10 to 100 times smaller. But the size of these galaxies “really go off a cliff,” he said….

The newly discovered galaxies could indicate that things sped up far faster in the early universe than previously thought, allowing stars to form “much more efficiently,” said David Elbaz, an astrophysicist at the French Atomic Energy Commission not involved in the research. is could be linked to recent signs that the universe itself is expanding faster than we once believed, he added.

This subject sparks fierce debate among cosmologists, making this latest discovery “all the more exciting, because it is one more indication that the model is cracking,” Elbaz said.

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