Satellites changing night sky
EXPECT the night sky to start changing fast. One day soon, the stars we can see from Earth could be outnumbered by a vast swarm of satellites.
While many people today live under the murk of light pollution, we can at least still travel to a glittering night sky in the mountains, the desert, or at sea. But if communications technology follows its current trajectory, anyone who wants to escape the byproducts of human activity might have to go to the moon. Some professional astronomers raised alarms last spring, and again in November, after SpaceX launched batches of 60 Starlink satellites. These don’t present a big problem yet, but when thousands more shine down on us, they could interfere with our ability to detect the farthest, faintest objects in the universe – the ones that give us a portal into the distant past. The wider effect will be on amateur sky watchers, campers, sailors, dreamers, poets, children, visionaries and anyone else who has ever been moved by the sparkle of the Milky Way set against the dark mystery of space.
We’re entering a second space age now, 70 years after the start of the first one, says space historian and astrophysicist Jonathan MacDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The cost of launching things into space is finally cheap, so the number of things in space is going to explode. SpaceX has plans to launch 30,000 more satellites, in addition to the 12,000 already approved by the FCC and FAA. MacDowell predicts that other companies are likely to launch “mega constellations” of their own satellites. The result could be cheap or free high speed Internet access for everyone on the planet, at the price of our view of timeless constellations.
Some communication can be done with much higher, less obtrusive satellites in geostationary orbit, he explains, but those can’t get enough bandwidth to offer everyone video streaming. For that we need the satellites in low earth orbit, where they will parade across our view.
The sky will become even more cluttered if Jeff Bezos carries out his plan to move heavy industry into space – an endeavor that would require hundreds of thousands of much larger, brighter satellites, says MacDowell.
“Our concern is about our connection to the universe,” says Ruskin Hartley, the president of the International Dark-Sky Association. His group, which has been active in trying to decrease earthbound light pollution, has also taken a stand on the space-based kind. While there are billions and billions of stars out there, our eyes can pick up just 10,000 or so from a relatively dark place, he says, so soon our view could be “twinkling with satellites”.
MacDowell says his calculations suggest that even a modest 30,000 satellites would profoundly change the view from Earth.
Astronomers say that number will start to complicate their work as well, especially an ambitious project known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will take wide-field images of the sky from Chile in an attempt to penetrate the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy, and the origin of galaxies. Will public enthusiasm for such ventures deflate when the rest of us no longer look at the stars and wonder where it all came from and where it’s all going?
Is it selfish to want to keep our night sky, knowing some people still don’t have Internet access? Maybe. But many of the disconnected surely feel a connection to the night sky, too.
MacDowell says one good compromise solution would be an international agreement, similar to a space junk pact negotiated through the Interagency Space Debris Coordination Committee. Through that agreement, companies with plans to launch satellites now design them so they fall to Earth after 25 years. A similar agreement might encourage people to design satellites with minimal impact on our view.
While the satellites themselves can help connect people to one another, the stars can also help us feel a connection – to others around the world and to people throughout history who have gazed upwards and been inspired. More than half of the world’s population now uses the Internet, and it shouldn’t be too hard to wire up the rest without sacrificing the sky. We humans will inevitably achieve complete connectedness, but without our shared sense of being in the cosmos, we could end up with less of interest to say. – Bloomberg
Tesla Model 3 crashes into police car with autopilot engaged
The driver says they were checking on a dog in the back seat, with Autopilot handling the controls.
This past Saturday, some typical police activity turned chaotic after a Tesla Model 3 slammed into a police cruiser on the side of I-95 in Connecticut.
The scene, which until the crash was simply State Police responding to a disabled vehicle on the freeway, turned wild as the Model 3 first hit the police car, continued on to hit the disabled vehicle and finally came to a stop with some assistance from a second state trooper.
The driver told police he was checking on his dog in the back seat and had Tesla’s Autopilot system engaged. Tesla does not advertise Autopilot as a completely self-driving system, though the name remains controversial, with critics saying it overpromises its abilities. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this incident.
No one was seriously injured in the crash, including the dog, according to the police statement on Facebook. The Connecticut State Police took the time, however, to remind drivers there are no self-driving cars on sale today.
“According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, although a number of vehicles have some automated capabilities, there are no vehicles currently for sale that are fully automated or self-driving,” the statement reads. “Regardless of your vehicle’s capabilities, when operating a vehicle your full attention is required at all times to ensure safe driving.”
The crash continues to highlight the controversies that automated systems bring in their marketing and capabilities, though Tesla’s Autopilot continues to be the most high-profile. Two other crashes, one in California and another in Florida, have previously drawn widespread attention to the system. –CNET
Rise of SUVs ‘makes mockery’ of electric car push
The “immense” rise in sales of high-emission sports utility vehicles means they now outsell electric cars in the UK by 37 to one, research has found.
As a result, overall exhaust emissions from new cars have been increasing, not declining, for the past three years, says the UK Energy Research Centre.
SUV sales are jeopardising the UK transport sector’s ability to meet EU emissions targets, it said.
Prof Jillian Anable of the UKERC said this made “a mockery” of UK policy.
“Effectively, we have been sleepwalking into the issue,” she said.
“The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines. We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately.
“It is time to enact a strong set of regulations to transform the entire car market towards ultra-low carbon, rather than focusing solely on the uptake of electric vehicles.”
UKERC was founded in 2004 and is funded by UK Research and Innovation, the UK government’s research and innovation funding agency.
It carries out research into sustainable future energy systems.
Over the past four years, there have been 1.8 million SUV sales, compared to a total of 47,000 for battery electric vehicles (BEV). In 2018, SUVs accounted for 21.2% of new car sales, up from 13.5% three years earlier.
However, BEV sales are coming from a low base, as the technology is still relatively new.
“SUVs are larger and heavier than a standard car, emitting about a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car and nearly four times more than a medium-sized battery electric vehicle,” said the UKERC.
“Assuming the majority of these SUVs will be on UK roads for at least a decade, it is estimated the extra cumulative emissions to total around 8.2 million tons of CO2.”
The UKERC said the “extraordinary leap” in SUV sales over the past four years seemed to be due to “attractive car financing packages which divert attention from running costs”.
Although vehicle excise duty is higher for gas-guzzlers, more than 90% of new cars in the UK are now sold by way of deals that wrap the excise duty into the monthly cost, “rendering the only clear policy signal to discourage high-carbon vehicles somewhat useless,” it said.
All-electric vehicles still represent only a fraction of total car sales. The UKERC said they remained at less than 1% of new car sales in 2019.
There are also challenges to uptake, including a lack of charging points on roads and too few low-cost models.
The UKERC warned against abandoning the EU’s emissions targets after Brexit, although no political party is currently advocating this.
It said EU regulations had been structured to allow makers of larger, heavier cars to have higher levels of emissions per km.
“Yet, despite its flaws, there are dangers of Britain choosing not to align with the EU vehicle regulations post-Brexit,” it added.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “It’s important to remember that the SUV trend has been developing for around two decades, arguably really taking off in the mid-2000s, whereas the electric vehicle (EV) market is only just beginning to accelerate as battery technology improves, along with the availability of public charge points.
“As a result, there are some very strong EV sports utility vehicles on sale now.”
A spokesperson for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: “Manufacturers respond to consumer demand and dual-purpose cars are an increasingly popular choice, available in a range of sizes, and valued for their style, practicality, higher ride and commanding view of the road.
“Thanks to ongoing investment, like all vehicles, they’re also ever more efficient, with average CO2 emissions from new dual-purpose cars having fallen more than 43% on 2000 levels.”
They’re tall, spacious, and styled to look as though they belong halfway up a mountain, even though most will never ever venture more than a few metres off-road.
SUVs are undoubtedly popular with drivers. But they’re also big and heavy – and that means they emit more CO2 than smaller cars.
But it would be wrong to see these figures as a sign that the market doesn’t want more environmentally friendly vehicles.
To put it simply, most people still drive petrol or diesel cars, and if they want a bigger car, right now they’ll probably choose a petrol or diesel SUV, because they’re familiar and widely available.
But just take a look at the tiny, yet rapidly growing market for electric cars. Among the models now on the market are the Kia e-Niro, Hyundai’s Kona Electric, the Jaguar I-Pace, the Audi E-tron and the Mercedes EQ.
All of them are SUVs. The manufacturers think they can surf the wave of enthusiasm for big cars – and use it to sell more electric vehicles.
The two are certainly not mutually exclusive. –BBC
China reportedly bans foreign hardware, software from government offices
The technology must be replaced with Chinese alternatives within three years, according to The Financial Times.
The Chinese government is reportedly planning to remove foreign PCs and software from its government offices and public institutions. In a directive issued earlier this year, Beijing officials ordered that all hardware and software be replaced with Chinese alternatives within the next three years, the Financial Times reported Sunday. The policy has reportedly been nicknamed 3-5-2 because it sets targets for government offices to replace 30% of foreign hardware and software in 2020, 50% in 2021 and 20% in 2022.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The US and China have been entangled in a trade war for more than a year. In November, the US Federal Communications Commission voted to prohibit the use of its annual $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund to purchase equipment and services from China-based Huawei and ZTE because they allegedly pose a national security threat. The FCC order also calls for carriers receiving USF funds to remove and replace any existing equipment from the Chinese companies.
The Commerce Department also blacklisted Huawei following a May executive order from President Donald Trump that effectively banned the company from US communications networks. Huawei and ZTE have denied that their gear can be used to spy or to compromise US security. -CNET