Saving Manatees, Nighttime Satellite Streaks, Webb Telescope Update. Jan 28, 2022, Part 1

Saving Manatees, Nighttime Satellite Streaks, Webb Telescope Update. Jan 28, 2022, Part 1

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

Science Friday

Friday, 28 January

Space-X Booster To Hit The Moon, After Years Of Hurtling Through Space

A Space-X rocket booster is on track to slam into the moon, which scientists predict will happen on March 4. The rocket was originally launched in 2015 to deploy a space weather satellite. Now, it’s a piece of space junk that’s been caught in limbo for the past seven years.

Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins guest host Miles O’Brien to talk about that and other science stories of the week, including implications of Russian cyber warfare, climate scientist Lisa Goddard’s legacy, a Lego robot with an “organic” brain, and everlasting bubbles.

 

A Race To Save Florida’s Manatees

Florida’s waterways are home to a charismatic mammal: the manatee. These gentle giants are sometimes called “sea cows” for the way they graze on seagrass, the long, green plants that grow underwater in their habitat.

But in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, the seagrass is disappearing fast due to algae, which is caused by pollution in the water. This loss of food has put the manatees in great peril. Last year, over 1,000 of them died—more than any year on record.

While threats to manatees are not new, this accelerated die-off concerns scientists, and is prompting a search for novel ways to help the Sunshine State’s sea cows. Joining guest host Miles O’Brien to talk about manatee conservation in Florida are Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatees Club in Maitland, Florida, and Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, conservation and education at ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida.

 

It’s A Bird. It’s A Plane. It’s An Astronomical Photo Bomb.

Anyone who’s spent any time gazing at the stars at night has had the experience of seeing an occasional satellite whizz by—a sighting that usually happens around twilight. But if you’ve been out in the dark lately, you may have noticed that there’s a lot more traffic in space these days. With keen eyes, you might spot a series of dots moving in a straight line. That line is a “train” of satellites in low earth orbit, launched to provide broadband internet access from space.

Starlink is the main company behind such efforts currently, with thousands of satellites in orbit already, but other players, such as Amazon, are joining the market as well. The companies behind them say they can provide high-speed broadband internet access to rural areas that might be out of range of a fiber optic cable or a good cellular connection.

But just as you can see those lines of glowing dots, astronomers and their telescopes can see them too, making their jobs more difficult. The problem is especially acute in long-duration exposures of the night sky—in which the dots become bright streaks across an entire image. Over the past few years, astronomers and some of the companies behind the large satellite constellations have been trying to find ways to mitigate the optical interference the satellites can cause.

Dr. Bruce Cameron, the director of the System Architecture Group at MIT, describes the capabilities of some of these huge satellite constellations, and who might stand to benefit from them. Dr. Connie Walker, a scientist with NSF’s NOIRLab and the co-chair of four panels looking at the impact of these satellite constellations on astronomy, joins guest host Miles O’Brien to discuss the challenges these constellations could pose in the future, and her hopes for collaboration with industry to solve the problems.

 

Webb Telescope Arrives To Its Final Home In Deep Space

After weeks of travel, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, moved into its final orbit this week. Following a Christmas day launch, the spacecraft has spent a month in transit, deploying its solar array, unfolding its heat shield, and unpacking its hexagonal mirror segments. On Monday, the craft fired its engines to brake into a circular orbit around a point in space known as L2, where astronomers hope it will operate for at least 10 years.

Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Deputy Project Scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Science Communications, joins guest host Miles O’Brien to talk about the telescope’s journey to L2. Straughn explains what will need to happen in the months ahead to fine-tune the mirrors and commission the science instruments on board before the telescope takes its first science images sometime this summer.

 

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