Monday, November 30, 2015

Demography Matters on Ukrainian Migration Scenarios

I have been wanting for some time to do an extended analysis of the ongoing Ukrainian situation. For the time being, here's four articles which suggest interesting future trends for migration from Ukraine, since the end of the Soviet Union one of the largest sources of migrants in the world.

Good Grief: Comets and Asteroids Brought 15N Enriched Ammonia to Earth?!



Pizzarello et al


Large isotopic anomalies are found in meteoritic insoluble organic materials (IOMs) and, for nitrogen, show 15N-excesses up to ${\delta }^{15}$N ~ 5000‰. These 15N-enrichments are commonly ascribed to presolar origins, but the attribution seems contradicted by available data on N-isotopes' cosmic distribution. We report here that 15N hotspots in several IOMs are reduced by hydrothermal treatment and their loss correlates with 15N values of ammonia released upon treatment. Because released ammonia's 15N-enrichments also relate with meteorites' mineralogy, i.e., asteroidal processes, and no current models offer plausible explanations for the finding, we account for our data with a novel scenario whereby 15N-enriched ammonia produced in the solar nebula is incorporated by carbonaceous materials and delivered to early Earth by comets and meteorites. The proposal also implies that abundant reduced nitrogen, a required element in origins of life theories, could reach our nascent planet and other planetary systems affecting their habitability.

World Bank Launches $500M Carbon Market

The World Bank on Monday launched a $500 million market-based scheme designed to help developing countries pay for emission reductions and combat climate change.

Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have jointly pledged an initial $250 million to get the so-called Transformative Carbon Asset Facility (TCAF) up and running next year, while the bank hopes further contributions will take the eventual total to $500 mln.

The scheme, which will reward countries for reducing emissions by paying a fee for each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduced, was launched in Paris a day after senior officials from almost 200 nations met in the French capital for two-week talks aimed at thrashing out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The bank said the price per ton paid would be set on a case-by-case basis and said the scheme would support energy efficiency, renewable energy and waste management projects, as well as schemes to cut emissions in cities and from the transport sector.

For many of the developing countries involved access to finance from richer nations is a major requirement of any Paris deal.

American Martian Rovers With JPL Scientists for Scale

How to Build a Reusable Solar Sail for Mars

Mass breakdown model of solar-photon sail shuttle: The case for Mars


Vulpetti et al


The main aim of this paper is to set up a many-parameter model of mass breakdown to be applied to a reusable Earth–Mars–Earth solar-photon sail shuttle, and analyze the system behavior in two sub-problems: (1) the zero-payload shuttle, and (2) given the sailcraft sail loading and the gross payload mass, find the sail area of the shuttle. The solution to the subproblem-1 is of technological and programmatic importance. The general analysis of subproblem-2 is presented as a function of the sail side length, system mass, sail loading and thickness. In addition to the behaviors of the main system masses, useful information for future work on the sailcraft trajectory optimization is obtained via (a) a detailed mass model for the descent/ascent Martian Excursion Module, and (b) the fifty–fifty solution to the sailcraft sail loading breakdown equation. Of considerable importance is the evaluation of the minimum altitude for the rendezvous between the ascent rocket vehicle and the solar-photon sail propulsion module, a task performed via the Mars Climate Database 2014–2015. The analysis shows that such altitude is 300 km; below it, the atmospheric drag prevails over the solar-radiation thrust. By this value, an example of excursion module of 1500 kg in total mass is built, and the sailcraft sail loading and the return payload are calculated. Finally, the concept of launch opportunity-wide for a shuttle driven by solar-photon sail is introduced. The previous fifty–fifty solution may be a good initial guess for the trajectory optimization of this type of shuttle.

Japan, India Expected to Close US-2 Amphibious Aircraft (flying boat) Deal

India and Japan are set to firm up an agreement to jointly produce amphibious military aircraft during the upcoming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in what could be the first defence deal between the two countries.

The US 2 amphibious aircraft, that has applications for search and rescue, surveillance as well as intelligence gathering, will be produced in India not only for domestic orders but will also be pitched jointly for exports in the region and beyond.

Indonesia Confirms Ordering Su-35s

Indonesia's defense minister had finally signed the official document approving to acquire Russia-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to replace the would-be decommissioned F-5 E/F Tiger II operated by Indonesian air forces.

The document had been submitted to the National Development Planning (Bappenas) for the follow up.

Indonesian Air Forces Marshall Agus Supriatna has said recently that before the signing, the air forces has submitted the characteristics of fighter jets eligible to replace the F-5 E/F Tiger II which was in service since 1980.

According to Agus, the air forces proposed two options to replace the light attack F-5 E/F Tiger II. One is Sukhoi 35, the other is F-16 Viper produced by the United States producer Lokheed Martin.

"As the final user, the Indonesian Air Forces only submitted the technical specifications of fighter jets that we desire, capable to accomplish our missions," Agus was quoted as saying by a local media on Thursday.

A Push in the Australian Senate to Reexamine Whether or not to buy the F-35

A push to examine the wisdom of Australia's planned $24 billion fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters - ranking as the nation's largest ever defence purchase - is underway in the Senate.

Greens defence spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson on Friday has urged the Senate's standing committee on foreign affairs and trade to inquire into the suitability of the stealth jet for Australia's strategic interests.

The move comes after the election last month of new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a promise to abandon plans to purchase the troubled fighter.

NATO to Offer Montenegro Membership

The Balkan state of Montenegro will on Wednesday be formally invited to join the NATO military alliance, diplomatic sources said, a move which could further strain already difficult ties with Moscow.

The offer is expected to come after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28-nation alliance in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The proposed text has been approved at (NATO) ambassador level," one source said Monday, asking not to be named. "After that, it would take at most a year and a half for Montenegro to become a member state," the source added.

Pre Mammalian Permian Therapsids Were Hairy: Evidence From Upper Permian Coprolites

Microbiota and food residues including possible evidence of pre-mammalian hair in Upper Permian coprolites from Russia


Bajdek et al


Coprolites (fossil faeces) provide direct evidence on the diet of its producer and unique insights on ancient food webs and ecosystems. We describe the contents of seven coprolites, collected from the Late Permian Vyazniki site of the European part of Russia. Two coprolite morphotypes (A, B) contain remains of putative bacteria, cyanobacteria, fungi, protists, invertebrate eggs, arthropod elements, undigested bone and tooth fragments, fish scales and elongated hair-like structures with hollow interiors. Content, size and shape of the coprolites together with the associated body fossil record suggest that the most probable scat-producers were carnivorous tetrapods; the bone-rich morphotype A reveals short food retention time and a fast metabolism and is therefore assigned to therapsid carnivores whereas morphotype B with rarer and degraded bones are assigned to archosauromorphs or other non-therapsid carnivores. The general coprolite matrix contains abundant micron-sized spheres and thin-walled vesicles which are interpreted as oxide and phosphatic pseudomorphs after microbial cells. From analyses of the undigested bones, we infer that they represent remains of actinopterygian fish, a therapsid and unrecognizable parts of amphibians and/or reptiles. Additionally, hair-like structures found in one coprolite specimen occur as diagenetically altered (oxide-replaced) structures and moulds (or partly as pseudomorphs) in a microcrystalline carbonate-fluoride-bearing calcium phosphate. This suggests that the latest Permian therapsids probably were equipped with hair-like integument or hairsuit. If true, this is by far the oldest evidence of this mammalian character in the stem group of mammals.

Europeans are Really all Turkish, well, Anatolian

The introduction of agriculture into Europe about 8,500 years ago changed the way people lived right down to their DNA.

Until recently, scientists could try to understand the way humans adapted genetically to changes that occurred thousands of years ago only by looking at DNA variation in today's populations. But our modern genomes contain mere echoes of the past that can't be connected to specific events.

Now, an international team reports in Nature that researchers can see how natural selection happened by analyzing ancient human DNA.

"It allows us to put a time and date on selection and to directly associate selection with specific environmental changes, in this case the development of agriculture and the expansion of the first farmers into Europe," said Iain Mathieson, a research fellow in genetics at Harvard Medical School and first author of the study.

By taking advantage of better DNA extraction techniques and amassing what is to date the largest collection of genome-wide datasets from ancient human remains, the team was able to identify specific genes that changed during and after the transition from hunting and gathering to farming.

Many of the variants occurred on or near genes that have been associated with height, the ability to digest lactose in adulthood, fatty acid metabolism, vitamin D levels, light skin pigmentation and blue eye color. Two variants appear on genes that have been linked to higher risk of celiac disease but that may have been important in adapting to an early agricultural diet.

Other variants were located on immune-associated genes, which made sense because "the Neolithic period involved an increase in population density, with people living close to one another and to domesticated animals," said Wolfgang Haak, one of three senior authors of the study, a research fellow at the University of Adelaide and group leader in molecular anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

"Although that finding did not come fully as a surprise," he added, "it was great to see the selection happening in 'real time.'"

The work also supports the idea that Europe's first farmers came from ancient Anatolia, in what is now Turkey, and fills in more details about how ancient groups mixed and migrated.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #44

A Russian Airstrike in Lataminah

Over the past two months, 1,500 people have been killed by Russian airstrikes.

Russia's Su-34 strike fighters, the rough equivalent of the American F-15E, has started carrying air to air missiles.

France has warned Russia that Russia's airstrikes must only hit Daesh/IS.
Coalition forces conducted 15 airstrikes against IS/Daesh on Sunday.

Negotiations have started for the rebels to retreat from Homs, according to the Assadite government.

Assadites have denied they ever used chemicals weapons.

Putin and Obama are to hold talks on Syria and Ukraine while at the climate summit in Paris.  Putin is refusing to meet with Erdogan.

Here are some of the ways the sanctions imposed by Russia on Turkey will bite.  Even with the sanctions, Turkey will not apologize for the downed aircraft.  The Su-24 Fencer pilot's body has been shipped back to Russia.

There was a weird report that Turkey was blockading Russian ships crossing the Dardanelles.  I have significant doubts there.

The Day After #2

Scuffle in the South China Sea #15: Did the US Frak up and Accidentally ACKNOWLEDGE Chinese Territorial Claims?!

As it turns out, the USS Lassen reportedly did not engage in a FONOPS to demonstrate that the islands China has built exert no right to territorial waters reaching out 12 nautical miles. Instead, the U.S. ship reportedly conducted “innocent passage,” turning off its radars and grounding its helicopters as it transited within 12 nautical miles of the islands. Undertaking “innocent passage” is done only in another nation’s territorial waters.

In short, the United States, by its actions, may have actually recognized China’s claims. If the reports are correct, the United States treated the artificial island atop Subi Reef as though it were a naturally occurring feature, and therefore entitled to a 12 nautical mile band of territorial water. This is precisely the opposite of what had been announced.


Like it or not, the message that the White House is now repeatedly sending is that the United States, in fact, accepts that the Chinese artificial islands should be treated as national territory, like a natural feature. In short, the United States is acceding to China’s efforts to close off portions of the open ocean.

Oh FRAK!   *THAT* is a colossal frak up. 

Someone, PLEASE, tell me this is not what happened!

Tribrachidium: an Ediaracan NeoProterozoic Organism was a Suspension Feeder Hydrodynamic Modeling Reveals

Computer simulations have allowed scientists to work out how a puzzling 555-million-year-old organism with no known modern relatives fed, revealing that some of the first large, complex organisms on Earth formed ecosystems that were much more complex than previously thought.

The international team of researchers from Canada, the UK and the USA, including Dr Imran Rahman from the University of Bristol, UK studied fossils of an extinct organism called Tribrachidium, which lived in the oceans some 555 million years ago. Using a computer modelling approach called computational fluid dynamics, they were able to show that Tribrachidium fed by collecting particles suspended in water. This is called suspension feeding and it had not previously been documented in organisms from this period of time.

Tribrachidium lived during a period of time called the Ediacaran, which ranged from 635 million to 541 million years ago. This period was characterised by a variety of large, complex organisms, most of which are difficult to link to any modern species. It was previously thought that these organisms formed simple ecosystems characterised by only a few feeding modes, but the new study suggests they were capable of more types of feeding than previously appreciated.

Dr Simon Darroch, an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, said: "For many years, scientists have assumed that Earth's oldest complex organisms, which lived over half a billion years ago, fed in only one or two different ways. Our study has shown this to be untrue, Tribrachidium and perhaps other species were capable of suspension feeding. This demonstrates that, contrary to our expectations, some of the first ecosystems were actually quite complex."

Co-author Dr Marc Laflamme, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, added: "Tribrachidium doesn't look like any modern species, and so it has been really hard to work out what it was like when it was alive. The application of cutting-edge techniques, such as CT scanning and computational fluid dynamics, allowed us to determine, for the first time, how this long-extinct organism fed."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Robopocalypse Report #32


Amazon unveiled its new delivery drone design.  It reportedly has a range of 15 miles.

Corporate drone users are talking about airspace use for drones for safety reasons.

The FAA panel has actually recommended individual drones NOT be registered, but rather pilots of drones over 1/2 lbs.  Pilots must be 13 or older.  Just means the parents will register for their kids.  Drones are expected to be the holiday gift and the FAA is scrambling in preparation for what's expected to be hundreds of thousands of new drones taking to the air after this season.

The FAA may be testing an air traffic control system for drones.  Maybe.

Oregon is regulating drones, whatever the FAA may do.

Paradise Valley, the wealthy Phoenix suburb, is also regulating drones.

Wired went to the Drone Expo in San Jose and the saw the future.  The future looks like a swarm of bees, it seems.

DJI, the premier drone maker, is expanding into agricultural drones.

Some have started using drones to work vineyards.

Japan expects to be doing home deliveries by drone within three years.

The Work Horse Group might beat Google and Amazon to using drones for deliveries.

Geologists are using drones to hunt for oil.

Italy is looking into how to inspect infrastructure, specifically bridges and buildings, with drones.

Self Driving Cars:

The US Department of Transportation has signaled it will begin formulating rules for self driving cars.  This is pretty big.

What people REALLY want a self driving car for is to have it go park itself. 

Volvo has released photos of its concept car, promises the car will be on the road in Sweden by 2017 and will be taking on liability for any accidents caused by its cars.

Tesla is aggressively hiring for their self driving car project.

Quanergy has a breakthrough solid state LIDAR that will cost less than $1,000 per self driving car.

Roborace will have driverless, electric cars race one another.   This is a long way from DARPA's Grand Challenge!

Google's solution to self driving cars and pedestrians might be to have the car talk to the pedestrians.  I can see the hilarity of when hackers start adjusting what their cars say.  Especially in New York.

Some are really pessimistic about self driving cars.

Hino Motors has started testing a self driving bus on a driver track.

There are discreet levels of autonomy in self driving trucks it seems. 

Others are saying to calm down, the self driving truck isn't here soon.

3d Printing:

New South Wales, Australia has outlawed 3d printed guns.

New Balance has developed a 3d printed shoe sole.

Efesto's Industrial 3d Metal Printer is selling very, very well.

Desktop Metal has received Stratasys' backing. 

Lockheed Martin is jumping into 3d printing for satellite manufacture.

Siemens and Georgia Tech are trying to fill in missing pieces for 3d printing.

The implications of intellectual property law for 3d printing.


Italy's Walk-man robot.
NASA has selected two universities to further develop its Valkyrie humanoid robots.

The University of Tehran is also developing humanoid robots, their Surena series.

Robots have taken over parking 1,000 cars in Aarhaus, Denmark.

Pine cones inspired researchers in South Korea to develop a micro bot powered by humidity.

The SpencerBot may guide you through the airport in the near future.

Robots are being taught to say 'no' to human commands.  Some are calling this the start of Asimov's Three Laws.  Isn't that how Planet of the Apes started?

China is developing Pack Bots that can be used for recon, bomb disposal and attack for anti terror ops.

The Brits have developing swarming bots that use...pheromones?  

The Aussies are working on agricultural robots.

A hotel in Edmonton is planning on having robot waiters in one of its themed wings.

Despite there being 169 different robot models for sale on Taobao in China, none have sold.  Apparently, the Robopocalypse has not come for the wait staff in China as yet.

Another reason to hate Barbie: the Furbie-ized Hello Barbie might have been hacked and may be a security risk.

Field robots are coming to construction sites.

The bots are coming for food processing plants.


Yup, botanical cyborgs are a thing, too. (paper link)

You could be one, too.  Sorta.  Oy.

Software bots:

There is now a machine vision algorithm to analyze kids' drawings.

Software is apparently better at hiring people than people are now.

Software bots are apparently coming for the investment adviser.   *cough*baby cooper dollar bill*cough*  Google it.  I've linked too many times.


Whether the Robopocalypse is our doom or next great economic innovation is up to us.

Robots will bring more jobs than destroy in Britain according to this piece.

Britain, European Union Discussing Technicalities of Brexit

A European official says British Prime Minister David Cameron and European Council President Donald Tusk will meet Sunday night to discuss the technicalities of the process needed if the U.K. decides to exit the bloc in the next couple of years.

Following an EU summit on Turkey and the refugee crisis on Sunday afternoon, Cameron and Tusk will meet for pre-arranged talks to work out details of a so-called Brexit.

International Outrage at the American Legalization of Asteroid Mining

The Commercial Space Launch Act, which includes provisions allowing American companies the right to keep resources that they mine in space, was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act has been hailed as groundbreaking in the United States, the space mining title has gotten an angry reaction overseas. In a Friday article in Science Alert, Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, condemned the space mining provisions as environmentally risky and a violation of international law. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada’s McGill University's Institute of air and space law, adds that space mining is a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and should not be allowed.

Oduntan’s environmental argument is expressed thus:

“So what’s at stake? We can assume that the list of states that have access to outer space - currently a dozen or so - will grow. These states may also shortly respond with mining programmes of their own. That means that the pristine conditions of the cradle of nature from which our own Earth was born may become irrevocably altered forever - making it harder to trace how we came into being. Similarly, if we started contaminating celestial bodies with microbes from Earth, it could ruin our chances of ever finding alien life there.

“Mining minerals in space could also damage the environment around Earth and eventually lead to conflict over resources. Indeed what right has the second highest polluter of Earth’s environment got to proceed with some of the same corporations in a bid to plunder outer space?”

Leaving aside the anti-American, anti-capitalist swipe, Oduntan’s argument could be applied to forbid even the peaceful exploration of space, lest space probes and astronauts “contaminate” the “pristine’ nature of space.

Both gentlemen try to invoke the Outer Space Treaty as binding against space mining, a dubious position. Oduntan attempts to claim that the notorious Moon Treaty, of which the United States is not a party to, is still binding as “customary law,” an odd position to take that suggest that the parties to an agreement can force their views on those countries that have chosen not to be parties by fiat.

An event of cosmic proportions occurred on 18 November when the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law. The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids. Although the act, passed with bipartisan support, still requires President Obama’s signature, it is already the most significant salvo that has been fired in the ideological battle over ownership of the cosmos. It goes against a number of treaties and international customary law which already apply to the entire Universe.

The new law is nothing but a classic rendition of the "he who dares wins" philosophy of the wild west. The act will also allow the private sector to make space innovations without regulatory oversight during an eight-year period and protect spaceflight participants from financial ruin. Surely, this will see private firms begin to incorporate the mining of asteroids into their investment plans.

Supporters argue that the US Space Act is a bold statement that finally sets private spaceflight free from the heavy regulation of the US government. The misdiagnosis begins here. Space exploration is a universal activity and therefore requires international regulation.

The act represents a full-frontal attack on settled principles of space law which are based on two basic principles: the right of states to scientific exploration of outer space and its celestial bodies and the prevention of unilateral and unbridled commercial exploitation of outer-space resources. These principles are found in agreements including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979.


We have a precedent!   Noel pointed out in email that asteroid mining only needs a Guano Islands Act: no sovereignty, but US can protect the islands and commercial interests.

SURPRISE! Coccolithophores, Calcium Shelled Plankton, Actually Grow MORE With Increased Carbon dioxide, NOT Less

Coccolithophores--tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web--have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period. This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

These findings were reported in the November 26th edition of Science and based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS) Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program.

"The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing," said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and a co-author of the paper. "We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.

"This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change," Balch added.

"Something strange is happening here, and it's happening much more quickly than we thought it should," said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins and one of the study's five authors.

Evidence From 24 Sites Within Chryse and Acidalia Planitia of a Briny Aquifier on Mars

Observations and modeling of northern mid-latitude recurring slope lineae (RSL) suggest recharge by a present-day martian briny aquifer


Stillman et al


Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are narrow (0.5–5 m) dark features on Mars that incrementally lengthen down steep slopes, fade in colder seasons, and recur annually. These features have been identified from the northern to southern mid-latitudes. Here, we describe how observations of northern mid-latitude RSL in northern Chryse Planitia and southwestern Acidalia Planitia (CAP) suggest that brines start flowing before northern spring equinox and continue for more than half a Mars-year (490 ± 40 sols, spanning solar longitude 337° ± 11°–224° ± 20°). All CAP RSL are found on the steep slopes of craters and their source zones are at or below the elevation of the surrounding plains. Spacecraft-derived surface temperature observations cannot resolve individual RSL, so thermal modeling was used to determine that CAP RSL have a freezing temperature of 238–252 K, freeze and melt diurnally, and flow only occurs within the top ∼8 cm of the regolith. Furthermore, we calculate that a typical CAP RSL has a water budget of 1.5–5.6 m3/m of headwall. Therefore, such a large water budget makes annual recharge via atmospheric or subsurface diffusion sources unlikely. Alternatively, we hypothesize that the most plausible RSL source is a briny aquifer with a freezing temperature less than or equal to the mean annual CAP surface temperature (220–225 K). The annual cycle is as follows: in late autumn, the shallowest part of the brine feeding the source zone freezes, forming an ice dam. As spring approaches, temperatures rise and the dam is breached. Brine is discharged and the RSL initially lengthens rapidly (greater than 1.86 m/sol), the lengthening rate then slows considerably, to ∼0.25 m/sol. Eventually, the losses equal the discharge rate and the RSL reaches its equilibrium phase. As brine flows in the RSL some of the water is lost to the atmosphere, therefore the freezing temperature of the brine within the RSL is higher (238–252 K) as the brine transitions to a super-eutectic salt concentration. In the late autumn, falling temperatures restore the ice dam and the H2O in the RSL slowly sublimates away. Overall, CAP RSL possess a significantly different seasonality and much longer duration than typical southern mid-latitude RSL, suggesting that RSL at different latitude bands have different source types. Lastly, CAP RSL are the best evidence that shallow groundwater may still exist on Mars.

ExoMars Mission Will Make its 2016 Launch Date. Barely.

Europe’s two-launch ExoMars mission to Mars in 2016 and 2018, which has run a budgetary obstacle course from the start, remains in deadlined-stressed mode with triple-shift work days on the eve of first mission’s shipment to Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome to prepare for a March launch, government and industry officials said Nov. 24.

Contrary to what several European Space Agency governments thought as they reluctantly financed the 1.2 billion-euro ($1.28 billion) ExoMars project — Europe’s principal space exploration mission — the industrial team led by Thales Alenia Space has been able to keep to the schedule and save the 2016 launch date.

Russia has Submitted its Offer of Su-35s to Indonesia

link. (in Indonesian)

French may be Negotiating to Build Factory for Rafale Fighters in India

India's largest-ever military deal is likely to bring in big business for the private sector with the French side looking to set up a production centre for the Rafale fighter aircraft as well as a low-cost executive jet in India, besides sharing vital aircraft technology for the indigenous Tejas project.

Russia to Upgrade its Missile Defense Systems

The Russian Aerospace Forces will receive a modernized missile defense system in the near future, Colonel Andrei Cheburin announced.

"I’m sure that in the short-term perspective we will receive an upgraded missile defense system," Cheburin told RSN Radio.

When China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Prototypes Took Flight

China Defense Blog has a post up about when the different J-20 stealth fighter prototypes took flight.

Academic Bun Fight: the Pleistocene/Holocene Boundary and the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis

Bayesian chronological analyses consistent with synchronous age of 12,835–12,735 Cal B.P. for Younger Dryas boundary on four continents


Kennett et al


The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis posits that a cosmic impact across much of the Northern Hemisphere deposited the Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) layer, containing peak abundances in a variable assemblage of proxies, including magnetic and glassy impact-related spherules, high-temperature minerals and melt glass, nanodiamonds, carbon spherules, aciniform carbon, platinum, and osmium. Bayesian chronological modeling was applied to 354 dates from 23 stratigraphic sections in 12 countries on four continents to establish a modeled YDB age range for this event of 12,835–12,735 Cal B.P. at 95% probability. This range overlaps that of a peak in extraterrestrial platinum in the Greenland Ice Sheet and of the earliest age of the Younger Dryas climate episode in six proxy records, suggesting a causal connection between the YDB impact event and the Younger Dryas. Two statistical tests indicate that both modeled and unmodeled ages in the 30 records are consistent with synchronous deposition of the YDB layer within the limits of dating uncertainty (∼100 y). The widespread distribution of the YDB layer suggests that it may serve as a datum layer.

That was really bad science

Problematic dating of claimed Younger Dryas boundary impact proxies




The PNAS paper by Kennett et al. (1) uses statistical methods in an attempt to improve the geochronological control for purported Younger Dryas boundary (YDB) impact proxies. The underpinning data for these analyses are problematic, however, as discussed by Meltzer et al. (2) and Holliday et al. (3). Several examples illustrate the problems. At Barber Creek the YDB zone is at ∼100 cm below the surface, but in situ wood charcoal dated to 10,500 ± 50 14C y B.P. (∼12.5 k cal yrs) is documented below 100 cm (3). The large SD for the modeled age of the YDB here (1) (12,865 ± 535 cal yrs) easily accommodates the high-precision date on the charcoal from below the spherule zone. At Blackville the sediments dated by optically stimulated luminescence are mixed and thus the dates cannot be considered reliable (3). The supposed impact proxies at Bull Creek are from 307- to 312-cm depth (3). The radiocarbon date of ∼12,960 cal yrs is from 298 to 307 cm and is a bulk sample on soil organic matter, thus representing a mean residence time for the soil carbon. Impact proxies are, therefore, older than ∼12,960 y by some unknown amount; they are also found in abundance in strata less than 3,000 y old. The Usselo soil in northwest Europe spans ∼1,400 y based on ∼50 radiocarbon ages, dating primarily to the Allerød and into the YD (2).


Reply to Holliday and Boslough et al.: Synchroneity of widespread Bayesian-modeled ages supports Younger Dryas impact hypothesis


Kennett et al


Holliday (1) rejects age-depth models for the Younger Dryas boundary layer (YDB) in Kennett et al. (2), claiming that they are incorrect for several reasons, including age reversals, high age uncertainties, and use of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. These same claims previously were presented in Meltzer et al. (3) and were discussed and refuted in Kennett et al. (2). These criticisms apply to nearly all dated archaeological and geological sequences, including the Odessa meteorite impact crater, where paradoxically, Holliday et al. (4) modeled an impact age using OSL dating (greater than 70% of dates used) with large uncertainties (to greater than 6,000 y) and age reversals (greatre than 40% of dates are reversals). Thus, Holliday (1) argues against a practice that he and many other researchers have used and continue to use today. In an ideal world, all dates would be in perfect chronological order with high accuracy and certainty, but such scenarios are rarely possible (2). It is because of such dating difficulties that Bayesian analysis is a powerful chronological tool, and is rapidly becoming the archaeological standard.

There Were Distinct Major Papionin Primate Clades in the Pliocene/Pleistocene South Africa

Cercopithecoid humeri from Taung support the distinction of major papionin clades in the South African fossil record


Gilbert et al


Associated cercopithecoid postcrania are rare in the Plio-Pleistocene fossil record, particularly in the case of South African karst cave sites. However, as clear postcranial differences between major papionin clades have been documented, it should be possible to assign isolated papionin postcrania to the Cercocebus/Mandrillus and Papio/Lophocebus/Theropithecus groups wherever sufficient anatomy is preserved. Here, we demonstrate that two partial humeri preserved at Taung, UCMP 56693 and UCMP 125898, are most likely attributable to the Cercocebus/Mandrillus and Papio/Lophocebus/Theropithecus clades, respectively. Univariate analyses (ANOVAs and t-tests) and multivariate analyses (discriminant function analyses) of humeral features, combined with a phylogenetic analysis of 24 humeral characters, all support our assessment. Given that the overwhelming number of craniodental specimens at Taung are attributable to two papionin taxa, Procercocebus antiquus (a member of the Cercocebus/Mandrillus clade) and Papio izodi (a purported fossil species of the modern genus Papio), we assign UCMP 56693 to Pr. antiquus and UCMP 125868 to P. izodi with a high degree of confidence. Implications for cercopithecoid evolution and biogeography are discussed, with a particular emphasis on these two fossil taxa.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #43

The airstrikes in Raqqa by Russians.  Note the accuracy of the guided weapons.  Also note they seem to have hit the same parking lot twice.  The second time you can see some sort of damage from the first strike or remnants thereof based on discolorations.

Airstrikes by Russians in Ariha today killed at least 18 (possibly as high as 40) and wounded dozens.

Putin has placed economic sanctions on Turkey for the shoot down.  Restrictions have been placed on Russian firms operating in Turkey, Turkish companies in Russia, Turkish goods have been restricted and Turkish citizens may no longer work for Russian firms.

There are reports of Turkish students in Russia being taken from dorms.

The Russian athletes competing in Turkey have been placed under special protection.

Russia has breached Israeli airspace repeatedly, too.

The American led coalition says the Russian report that the S-400 stopped the airstrikes in Syria is nonsense.

The Day After #1

Penciling in Details of the Hadean

Penciling in details of the Hadean




Some truly remarkable graphite is described by Bell et al. in PNAS (1). Graphite is, of course, the same material as found in pencil tips or in the anode of lithium ion batteries. Graphite is, however, also a very common material in Earth Science, and is often the form of carbon found in very old fossils that have been subjected to substantial heat. The graphite described in the Bell et al. article is remarkable because it is exceptionally old, dating to the Hadean eon. Officially, the Hadean is defined as the time period from the formation of the Earth until 4 billion y ago. Until recently, this has been a seemingly convenient definition, leaving it as the geological eon without a rock record on Earth. Over the past quarter century, however, the discovery and exploration of detrital zircon minerals from the Jack Hills conglomerates of Western Australia (2) have provided a new window into this early time. Jack Hills zircons crystallized in magma chambers at various times as far back as 4.4 billion y ago (3, 4). So far, these zircons and their inclusions are currently our only tangible record of the first half a billion years of Earth history. Based in part on the extreme age of some of these zircon minerals, along with similarly old age dates for a Martian meteorite (5), the Planetary Science and Earth Science communities now appreciate that planets form and cool rather quickly (6). No longer is the Hadean just a placeholder on our timelines between the formation of the Earth and the oldest known rocks

Saturday, November 28, 2015

I Smell BS: New Startup Aims to Start the Singularity by Uploading *YOU* Into an Android Bot

As advancements in technology continue at an ever-increasing pace, will there ever come a day when we’ll be able to use science to cheat death? Australian startup company Humai seems to think so; it claims to be working on a way to transfer a person’s consciousness into an artificial body after they’ve died.

“We want to bring you back to life after you die,” says Humai CEO Josh Bocanegra on the company’s website. “We’re using artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes and information about how your body functions from the inside-out. This data will be coded into multiple sensor technologies, which will be built into an artificial body with the brain of a deceased human. Using cloning technology, we will restore the brain as it matures.”

In an interview with Australian Popular Science, Bocanegra said: “We'll first collect extensive data on our members for years prior to their death via various apps we're developing.” After death, the company will cryogenically freeze members’ brains until the technology is fully developed, at which point the brains will be implanted into an artificial body.

Wait.  I think Tom Scott already posited this one.  

China's Plans for a Clone Factory for Food

In Chinese mythology, the Monkey King is a beast with magical fur. All he has to do is pull out a hair, blow on it and it is instantly transformed into a clone of himself.

Xu Xiaochun, chief executive of BoyaLife, says the fable is not far from reality, as far as his Chinese biotechnology company is concerned. This week he announced an investment of $31m in a joint venture with South Korea’s Sooam Biotech that aims to clone 1m cows a year from their hair cells.

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail.

Sometime next year, researchers in BoyaLife’s laboratory on the outskirts of the coastal city of Tianjin will take skin cells from a few carefully chosen cattle (Kobe beef is Mr Xu’s favourite). The scientists will extract the nucleus from each cell and place it into an unfertilised egg from another cow. The cloned embryos will then be implanted in surrogate dairy cows housed on cattle ranches throughout China.

His ambition is staggering. Starting with 100,000 cloned cattle embryos a year in “phase one”, Mr Xu envisages 1m annually at some point in the future. That would make BoyaLife by far the largest clone factory in the world.

Mr Xu says the latest techniques enable cloning to be carried out in an “assembly line format” at a rate of less than 1 minute per cell. Based on a four- hour shift and 250 working days a year, a proficient cloner would “manufacture” 60,000 cloned cow embryos a year, he says, adding that a team of 50 will be sufficient for the planned scale of the project. Mr Xu plans to have a staff of 300 and eventual total investment is estimated at $500m.

The Carbon Market is a Work in Progress

It was supposed to be the way the market would cut greenhouse gases by itself: governments selling companies permits-to-pollute, which they could trade among themselves. Over time, the number of permits would be reduced, and the cost to companies of failing to cut emissions would rise.

Yet, 10 years after the EU launched the world's biggest carbon trading scheme, the effectiveness of the concept is in question and climate activists are disenchanted or hostile.

While there is still support for national or regional markets, not least in China, which plans to launch the world's biggest scheme in 2017, any hopes of creating a global carbon market at next week's U.N. climate conference in Paris look wildly optimistic.

What Controls Sand Dune Migration in Martian Herschel Crater?

Present-day aeolian activity in Herschel Crater, Mars


Cardinale et al


In this report, we show evidence for ripple and dune migration in Herschel Crater on Mars.

We estimate an average dune migration of 0.8 m and a minimum ripple migration of 1.1 m in a time span of 3.7 Earth-years. These dunes and ripples are mainly shaped by prevailing winds coming from the north, however we also report the presence of secondary winds which elongate the barchans’ horns. Such a complex wind scenario is likely caused by the influence of winds blowing off the western crater rim as suggested by the Mars Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (MRAMS), an atmospheric mesoscale model. A multi-directional wind regime at the local scale is also supported by the observed bimodal distribution of the ripple trends. For the first time, a survey integrating the assessment of dune and ripple migration is presented, showing how dune topography can influence the migration patterns of ripples and how underlying topography appears to control the rates of dune migration.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus Encapsuled For March 2016 Launch on an Atlas V

Preparations for the first launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft in more than a year, and the first on an Atlas 5 rocket, have gone smoothly despite some changes in timing of loading cargo on the spacecraft, an Orbital ATK executive said.

An Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch the Cygnus craft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Dec. 3. The launch will be the first for the Cygnus since the October 2014 failure of Orbital’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital purchased the Atlas 5 launch from United Launch Alliance shortly after the failure, and in August acquired a second Atlas 5 for a Cygnus mission planned for March 2016. While the Cygnus has not previously flown on the Atlas, integrating the cargo spacecraft to the rocket has gone well.

Wuh?! The Bride, Basra, Iraq

Basra, Iraq, is known as "the bride of the gulf," after its life-supporting fertile lands. Building vertically instead of outwards is one way to protect those lands and the new Bride vertical city does just that. It has its own own neighborhoods, schools, clinics and transport system.

London's Robopocalyptic Bicycle Storage Tower


Pittsburgh's Lower Hill District Rendering

725 Harrison Rendering


Homo naledi may Date From the Gelasian Pleistocene Quaternary (2 Million Years ago)

Estimating the age and affinities of Homo naledi




Recent discoveries of more than 1500 hominin fossils from the site of Rising Star in the South African Cradle of Humankind, attributed to a new species (Homo naledi), have attracted global interest. As yet no secure date for this extraordinary material has been obtained, and the relationship of this species to other Plio-Pleistocene taxa has been greatly debated in the media. Here I report results of morphometric analyses that may facilitate an assessment of the age and affinities of crania attributed to H. naledi.

pop sci write up.

The Inferred Aptian Cretaceous Paleoceanography of the South Atlantic

Late Aptian (Cretaceous) paleoceanography of the South Atlantic Ocean inferred from dinocyst communities of the Sergipe Basin


Carvalho et al


The late Aptian (Early Cretaceous) is a crucial time interval for understanding the paleoceanographic changes in the Southern Hemisphere. Oceanographic changes in the emerging South Atlantic Ocean during this interval are reflected in the stratigraphic distribution of dinoflagellate communities recorded in the Muribeca and Riachuelo formations of the Sergipe Basin in northeastern Brazil. The Subtilisphaera community, in the lower and middle parts of the section, appears to be related to the Subtilisphaera Ecozone and suggests the onset of Tethyan influence in the central South Atlantic, in a restricted to inner-neritic environment. The succeeding Spiniferites community, in the middle part of the section, represents the first significant transgression, probably of eustatic origin. The Cyclonephelium-Exochosphaeridium community, in the upper part of the section, appears to be related to an oceanic event characterized by intermittent dysoxic-anoxic conditions. The uppermost part of the section is dominated by the Spiniferites community, related to a progressive regional transgression and culminating in an open-marine, fully Tethyan environment in the central part of the widening South Atlantic.

Apidium zuetina: a new Anthropoid Primate From Oligocene Paleogene Libya

During upheaval in Libya in 2013, a window of opportunity opened for scientists from the University of Kansas to perform research at the Zallah Oasis, a promising site for unearthing fossils from the Oligocene period, roughly 30 million years ago.

From that work, the KU-led team last week published a description of a previously unknown anthropoid primate -- a forerunner of today's monkeys, apes and humans -- in the Journal of Human Evolution. They've dubbed their new find Apidium zuetina.

Significantly, it's the first example of Apidium to be found outside of Egypt.

"Apidium is interesting because it was the first early anthropoid primate ever to be found and described, in 1908," said K. Christopher Beard, Distinguished Foundation Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator with KU's Biodiversity Institute, who headed the research. "The oldest known Apidium fossils are about 31 million years old, while the youngest are 29 million. Before our discovery in Libya, only three species of Apidium were ever recovered in Egypt. People had come up with the idea that these primates had evolved locally in Egypt."

Beard said evidence that Apidium had dispersed across North Africa was the key facet of the find. He believes shifting climatic and environmental conditions shaped the distribution of species of Apidium, which affected their evolution.

"We've found evidence that climate change -- not warming, but cooling and drying -- across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary probably is the root cause in kicking anthropoid evolution into overdrive," he said. "All of these anthropoids, which were our distant relatives, were living up in the trees -- none of them were coming down. When the world became cooler and dryer in this period, what was previously a continuous belt of forest became more fragmented. This created barriers to gene flow and movement of animals from one part of forest to what used to be adjacent forest."

With a forest broken up, there was an inhibition of gene flow that through time resulted in speciation, or the creation of new species, according to the KU researcher.

"Animals that are sequestered become different species over millions of years," Beard said. "As the climate oscillates again, you've got different species of Apidium. As forests expand and contract, now you've got competition between species of Apidium that have never seen each other before. One species outcompetes the other, the other goes extinct, and we think that's what we're picking up with this Libyan Apidium, which is related to the youngest and largest species of Apidium known from Egypt."

Beard said that Apidium zuetina would have been physically similar to modern-day squirrel monkeys from South America, but with smaller brains, and would have dined on fruits, nuts and seeds.

"We know that Apidium was a very active arboreal monkey, a really good leaper," he said. "We know they actually had fused lower-leg bones just above the ankle joint. That's really unusual for anthropoid primates, and the only reason for it to happen is because you like to jump a lot, as it stabilized the join between those bones and the ankle."

The team identified Apidium zuetina through detailed analysis of its teeth.

Russia's Most Syrian Adventure #42

The Russians are, like they were in Ukraine, denying using ground forces in Syria, but really are.  Speigel has an article about German.  Run through Google Translate.

The Kurdish 'YPG' apparently has aligned itself with Russia.

The Russians did not, despite their claims to the contrary, give their flight plan for the downed Su-24 to the US.  The Russians have since pounded the Turkmen ever since the downing.  Russia is still maintaining it has the right to respond militarily to the downing of the Su-24.  Erdogan is going to attempt mend ties with Moscow while in Paris.  At the same time, he is warning Putin not to play with fire, given the reports of Turkish businessmen being detained, ending of tourism, etc.

The Russians are claiming an Iranian General supervised the operation to rescue the downed Russian pilot.

The Russians are going for propaganda points by claiming since the deployment of the S-400 missile system, the Americans and Turks have been too scared to conduct air strikes.

The Russians are stating they may begin using electronic jamming to protect their fighter escorted airstrikes.

Putin says Russia is fully mobilized to respond militarily to Turkey should Russian (Putin) so decide.

Fall of the Invaders

Hiss of the Dragon: 11 Aircraft Strong Chinese Force Flies Near Southern Japanese Islands

Japan scrambled jets after 11 Chinese military planes flew near southern Japanese islands during what Beijing said was a drill to improve its long-range combat abilities, reports said Saturday.

The planes -- eight bombers, two intelligence gathering planes and one early-warning aircraft -- flew near Miyako and Okinawa on Friday without violating Japan's airspace, the Japanese defence ministry said in a statement released on Friday.

Some of them flew between the two islands while others made flights close to neighbouring islands, the ministry said.

A Chinese air force spokesman said several types of planes, including H-6K bombers, were involved in Friday's drill over the western Pacific, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

Shen Jinke said such open sea exercises had improved the force's long-distance combat abilities, according to Xinhua.

While there were no further comments from the Japanese ministry, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that it was "unusual" for China to dispatch such a large fleet close to Japan's airspace and the ministry was analysing the purpose of the mission.

Japan scrambles jets hundreds of times a year to defend its airspace, both against Russia and these days also against Chinese aircraft.

The North China Craton Broke off From Rodinia During the Tonian NeoProterozoic

Early Neoproterozoic emplacement of the diabase sill swarms in the Liaodong Peninsula and pre-magmatic uplift of the southeastern North China Craton


Zhang et al


Diabase sill swarms are widespread within the Neoproterozoic sedimentary rocks in the Liaodong Peninsula (named as the Dalian mafic sill swarms), eastern North China Craton (NCC). Our new zircon LA-ICP-MS U-Pb and baddeleyite SIMS Pb-Pb dating results on five diabase sill samples emplaced into the Qiaotou, Cuijiatun and Xingmincun Formations in the Liaodong Peninsula indicate their emplacement during the early Neoproterozoic (Tonian) period at 0.92–0.89 Ga and pre-magmatic regional uplift prior to ca. 0.92–0.89 Ga. The above results provide important constraints on the upper boundary of the Neoproterozoic strata and their macroscopic carbonaceous fossils and organic-walled microfossils in the eastern and southeastern NCC and indicate they are Tonian in age. The early Neoproterozoic Dalian diabase sills belong to the tholeiitic series and are characterized by low contents of SiO2 and K2O, high contents of TiO2, Fe2O3T and MgO, slight light REE (LREE)-enrichment and no Eu anomalies on chondrite-normalized REE patterns, enrichment of high field strength element (HFSE) and lack of negative Nb, Ta, Zr, Hf, P and Ti anomalies on primitive mantle-normalized spidergrams; and exhibit geochemical characteristics of within plate basalt on discrimination diagrams. The newly identified Dalian diabase sills, together with the previously reported Xu-Huai and Sariwon mafic sills and the Dashigou mafic dykes, constitute an early Neoproterozoic (0.92–0.89 Ga) large igneous province in the NCC (Sino-Korean Craton). Formation of the early Neoproterozoic diabase sill (dyke) swarms in the NCC is probably related to a continental rifting event that have led to breakup of southeastern NCC from some other continents in the Rodinia supercontinent. Breakup of the NCC from the Rodinia supercontinent at around 0.92–0.89 Ga is also supported by pre-magmatic regional uplift of the southeastern NCC prior to ca. 0.92–0.89 Ga and evolution trend of the Dalian diabase sills from within plate basalt to mid-ocean ridge basalt on the Zr/Y vs. Zr discrimination diagram.

Friday, November 27, 2015

NSA to Stop Bulk Surveillance by Sunday

The U.S. National Security Agency will end its daily vacuuming of millions of Americans' phone records by Sunday and replace the practice with more tightly targeted surveillance methods, the Obama administration said on Friday.

As required by law, the NSA will end its wide-ranging surveillance program by 11:59 p.m. EST Saturday (4:59 a.m. GMT Sunday) and expects to have the new, scaled-back system in place by then, the White House said.

The transition is a long-awaited victory for privacy advocates and tech companies wary of broad government surveillance at a time when national security concerns are heightened in the wake of the Paris attacks earlier this month.

China to Build Supercollider 2 - 7 Times the Energy of the Swiss Large Hadron Collider

China is planning to enter the Europe- and US-dominated world of experimental physics with (wait for it …) a bang. It has formally announced that it will begin the first phase of construction of an enormous particle accelerator around 2020, which will be twice the size and seven times more powerful than CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Europe's LHC is the largest single machine in the world, a huge circular tunnel 17 miles (27 km) in circumference. But China's planned Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC) could (almost) literally run rings around it – it will be between 30 and 62 miles in circumference, large enough to circle Manhattan.

Wang Yifang, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, has suggested Qinhuangdao, a northern port city near the start of the Great Wall, as an ideal location for the underground facility.

The plan is for the tunnel to house two different super colliders. The first phase project will be the CEPC, designed to study the Higgs boson particle and how it decays following a collision. Super colliders smash atomic particles together at velocities close to the speed of light, to try to recreate the conditions that followed the Big Bang. China's super collider will get closer to these conditions than ever before.

Ten European Union Members Send Letter Stating Russo-German NordStream Gas Pipeline NOT in European Interests

Russia's plans to extend its gas link to Germany run counter to EU interests and risk further destabilizing Ukraine, 10 European governments said in a letter to the European Commission that called for a summit-level debate on the issue.

A group of European companies signed an agreement with Gazprom in September to expand its Nord Stream pipeline to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Gazprom said it would halt gas deliveries to Ukraine while Kiev said it could find cheaper supplies elsewhere.

The letter, written on Thursday and signed by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, says the project should come under the closest regulatory scrutiny and called for "an inclusive debate" at next month's EU summit.

"The position of the European Commission on the Nord Stream II project will also essentially influence the perception of the EU's common foreign and security policy among its core allies and traditional partners," the letter, seen by Reuters, said.

World leaders have been urging Moscow and Ankara to avoid any escalation of tensions following the shooting down of a Russian jet by NATO member Turkey.

Russia's relationships with the European Union and Ukraine have been volatile since the annexation of Crimea in March last year.

The Nord Stream extension to deliver increased volumes of gas straight to Germany could have serious consequences for Kiev and EU nations, the letter said.

James Webb Space Telescope Begins Mirror Installation

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope – has hit the final assembly phase milestone via the installation of the first of 18 mirrors on the spacecraft’s backbone structure. All 18 segments are expected to be installed by early next year as JWST prepares for launch in 2018 via an Ariane 5 rocket.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Wins $200 Million Contract for Boeing CST-100 Starliner Rocket Engines

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc., has signed a contract with Boeing valued at nearly $200 million that supports a new era of spaceflight – one that will carry humans to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil once again. Under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) subcontract to Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne is completing the design, development, qualification, certification and initial production of the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 “Starliner” service module propulsion system.

Obama Signed Asteroid Mining Law, may Lead to Treaty Violation

U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation on Wednesday providing a framework for space companies to mine ore from asteroids and other bodies, but legal critics are worried the measure could lead to violations of international law.

The Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act gives any American who successfully extracts natural resources from outer space the property rights over the haul.

But it has long been agreed between countries that outer space is not to become another Wild West, some legal scholars argue, and the new law risks privatizing a realm that is meant to belong to all of humanity.

"My view is that natural resources [in space] should not be allowed to be appropriated by anyone — states, private companies, or international organizations," said Ram Jakhu, a professor at McGill University's institute of air and space law.

He said the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed by the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, makes it clear that the surfaces and contents of asteroids and other celestial bodies are protected from commercial harvesting.

The treaty's Article 2 reads, "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

That view isn't unanimous among legal scholars, however. Some say small asteroids don't qualify as "celestial bodies," while others say it's not "appropriating" an asteroid to extract minerals from it. And the new law does contain a clause making it clear the U.S. isn't asserting sovereignty or exclusive rights over any celestial body.

Ricky Lee, an Australian lawyer who wrote his doctoral thesis on the legalities of space mining, said companies are already making routine, for-profit use of limited space resources by launching satellites into low orbits, and especially into high-up geostationary orbits, of which there are a maximum number of slots available.

"So the idea that commercial use of space resources is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty... is quite simply absurd," he said in an email.