2018 Atlantic hurricane season to be ‘near or above-normal,’ NOAA says

The Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be close to “normal” this year after a record-breaking season in 2017, government forecasters announced Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its forecast that the possibility of a weak El Niño developing, along with near-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, will make conditions a little more difficult for storm development than last year.

NOAA forecasters are calling for 10 to 16 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, of which 5 to 9 will strengthen into hurricanes. Of those storms, there will be 1 to 4 major hurricanes, which are classified as Category 3, 4, and 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher.

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes, including 3 major hurricanes, according to NOAA.

“There are no strong climate signals saying it’s going to be extremely active, like last year, or extremely weak,” said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose (R) and Hurricane Katia (L) are pictured in the Atlantic Ocean in this September 7, 2017 NOAA satellite photo. (NOAA)

Forecasters this year predict a 35 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season for the upcoming hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

If an El Nino develops later this summer, that could suppress storm development during the season’s peak months from August through October. El Nino is the natural warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide and tends to reduce hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

Warm waters feed a hurricane’s strength, while strong wind shear can pull it apart. If El Nino does not develop and water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea warm up, that could fuel more storm development, according to Bell.

This year the hurricane season includes the names: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sara, Tony, Valerie, and William.

The list of names for the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season. (NOAA)

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector and the public,” Acting FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski said in a statement. “It only takes one storm to devastate a community so now is the time to prepare. Do you have adequate insurance, including flood insurance? Does your family have a communication and evacuation plan? Stay tuned to your local news and download the FEMA app to get alerts, and make sure you heed any warnings issued by local officials.”

NOAA said that this year the agency has rolled out new tools to help with hurricane forecasts, including the GOES-17 satellite to help monitor storm development.

“NOAA’s observational and modeling enhancements for the 2018 season put us on the path to deliver the world’s best regional and global weather models,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction in a statement.  “These upgrades are key to improving hurricane track and intensity forecasts, allowing NOAA to deliver the best science and service to the nation.”

The National Hurricane Center will also make the arrival time of Tropical Storm-force winds appear on graphics this hurricane season, which NOAA said will help people in storm preparation efforts.

NOAA will update the 2018 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just ahead of the peak of the season.

Last year, the NOAA predicted an above-average season. Three devastating hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — ravaged Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and many Caribbean islands. Overall, last year saw 17 named storms, including 10 hurricanes.

This is Sally Ride’s Forever Stamp; Billie Jean King, Ride’s widow to attend dedication ceremony

SAN DIEGO – Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, is commemorated on a Forever stamp.

The Sally Ride Forever stamp will be dedicated in California Wednesday in a ceremony at the Price Center, University of California San Diego.

Ride served as a professor of physics at the university, which also is home to Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diego, a non-profit organization she co-founded to inspire young people in science, engineering, technology and math and to promote STEM literacy.

The stamps may be pre-ordered for delivery.

“Sally Ride’s history-making journey has made it easier for young girls to dream of one day being an astronaut, an engineer, a physicist or a mathematician. Today, girls don’t just dream. Because of trailblazers like Sally Ride, they have been empowered to do,” said Kristin Seaver, U.S. Postal Service chief information officer and executive vice president .

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who was Ride’s friend, is scheduled to attend the ceremony, as well as Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and another friend of Ride; and Ride’s widow Tam O’Shaughnessy, co-founder and executive director of Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diego.

“Sally started collecting stamps when she was a girl, and she continued to do so her whole life –especially stamps of the Olympics and space exploration,” said O’Shaughnessy. “Sally would be deeply honored to have her portrait on a U.S. stamp.”

The stamp art features a colorful portrait of Ride in her light blue space suit with a dramatic depiction of a space shuttle lifting off in the background. The images was sketched first in charcoal and then rendered in oil paint by artist Paul Salmon. Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp.

The Sally Ride stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp, equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.

This NASA Camera Melted During a SpaceX Rocket Launch, But the Photos Survived!

Veteran NASA photographer Bill Ingalls is no stranger to rocket launches, but even he seemed surprised when one of his remote cameras melted in a fire sparked by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch Tuesday but — wait for it — still managed to snap photos of the liftoff.

“Well, one remote cam outside the pad perimeter was found to be a bit toast(y),” Ingalls wrote on Facebook after the launch, “and yes – it made pix until [its] demise.”

The “toasty” camera was a Canon DSLR that Ingalls placed about a quarter mile (1,320 feet, or 402 meters) from SpaceX’s pad, called Space Launch Complex 4E, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was one of six remote cameras that the photographer set up to chronicle the launch of NASA’s twin GRACE-FO satellites on Tuesday (May 22). Five commercial Iridium Next communications satellites also rode the Falcon 9 into orbit. [See more awesome photos of SpaceX’s GRACE-FO launch]

The camera melted in a brush fire triggered by the Falcon 9 launch, Ingalls told Space.com today (May 23). Vandenberg’s fire department arrived to the launchpad after liftoff (which is typical of Vandenberg launches, to secure the site). A firefighter then found the camera and had it waiting for Ingalls when he arrived to collect his remote cameras.

“The Vandenberg Fire Department put the fire out pretty quickly, but unfortunately my camera got toasted” before they got to it, Ingalls said.

It was the first time that one of Ingalls’ cameras has been melted during a launch, and he’s been snapping photos for NASA since 1989.

But despite being melted, the camera still managed to do its job. In one photo, the camera snapped a single frame of the SpaceX Falcon 9 as it began to lift off. “At least [it] got a frame before the camera bit the dust,” Ingalls wrote.

This photo of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch was captured by a remote camera set up by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls before a brush fire melted the camera on May 22, 2018 at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Then came the fire.

The next photo clearly shows flames overtaking the camera. “Reason for the toasty remote camera,” Ingalls wrote.

One final photo by Ingalls shows the remains of the camera, its lens a charred mess of bubbled plastic. “Toasty remote camera,” Ingalls wrote.

Flames from a brush fire are clearly visible this this final image from a remote camera set up by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22, 2018. The brush fire ultimately melted the camera, but its memory card was still accessible.

The brush fire that scorched Ingalls’ camera seems to have just been bad luck. He had four other remote cameras located much closer to the launchpad that made it through unscathed and worked flawlessly.

The biggest worry for a remote camera near the launchpad is usually debris, Ingalls said. A rocket launch can kick up rocks and other bits of debris that can damage or destroy a camera.

Cameras close to launchpads have protective housings, while lens filters can help protect cameras located farther away, he said.

The article originally appeared on www.space.com

Newest NOAA weather satellite suffers critical malfunction

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some bad news today: the GOES-17 weather satellite that launched almost two months ago has a cooling problem that could endanger the majority of the satellite’s value.

GOES-17 is the second of a new generation of weather satellite to join NOAA’s orbital fleet. Its predecessor is covering the US East Coast, with GOES-17 meant to become “GOES-West.” While providing higher-resolution images of atmospheric conditions, it also tracks fires, lightning strikes, and solar behavior. It’s important that NOAA stays ahead of the loss of dying satellites by launching new satellites that ensure no gap in global coverage ever occurs.

The various instruments onboard the satellite have been put through their paces to make sure everything is working properly before it goes into official operation. Several weeks ago, it became clear that the most important instrument—the Advanced Baseline Imager—had a cooling problem. This instrument images the Earth at a number of different wavelengths, including the visible portion of the spectrum as well as infrared wavelengths that help detect clouds and water vapor content.

The infrared wavelengths are currently offline. The satellite has to be actively cooled for these precision instruments to function, and the infrared wavelengths only work if the sensor stays below 60K—that’s about a cool -350°F. The cooling system is only reaching that temperature 12 hours a day. The satellite can still produce visible spectrum images, as well as the solar and lightning monitoring, but it’s not a glorious next-gen weather satellite without that infrared data.

According to NOAA’s release, the agency is investigating the source of the cooling problem and hoping it can find some sort of fix that improves the system’s performance. But NOAA also notes that “if efforts to restore the cooling system are unsuccessful, alternative concepts and modes will be considered to maximize the operational utility of the [Advanced Baseline Imager].”

The “make the best of a bad situation” scenario is far from ideal, though. If GOES-17 doesn’t fully come online this fall as planned, it’s not like US weather forecasters will be in the dark—the satellites currently covering that portion of the globe are in good shape. That said, GOES-17 was set to be a shiny new toy for forecasters, and any hitch in the satellite succession plan is potentially costly. So here’s hoping GOES-17 can just chill.

Legend of Loch Ness monster will be tested with DNA samples

The stories seem as tall as the lake is deep. For hundreds of years, visitors to Scotland’s Loch Ness have described seeing a monster that some believe lurks in the depths.

But now the legend of Nessie may have no place left to hide. A New Zealand scientist next month is leading an international team to the lake, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there.

University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he’s no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way. Besides, he says, his kids think it’s one of the coolest things he’s ever done.

One of the more far-fetched theories is that Nessie is a long-necked plesiosaur that somehow survived the period when dinosaurs became extinct. Another theory is that the monster is actually a sturgeon or giant catfish. Many believe the sightings are hoaxes or can be explained by floating logs or strong winds.

Gemmell said that when creatures move about in water, they leave behind tiny fragments of DNA. It comes from their skin, feathers, scales and urine.

He said his team will take 300 samples of water from different points around the lake and at different depths. They will filter the organic material and extract the DNA, he said, sequencing it by using technology originally created for the human genome project.

He said the DNA results will then be compared against a database of known species. He said they should have answers by the end of the year.

“I’m going into this thinking it’s unlikely there is a monster, but I want to test that hypothesis,” Gemmell said. “What we’ll get is a really nice survey of the biodiversity of the Loch Ness.”

He said the real discoveries may come in determining things such as the prevalence of invasive species.

Gemmell, 51, said he first visited Loch Ness in his late 20s while on vacation. Like thousands of tourists before him, he gazed out over the lake trying to catch sight of a monster. He said he first came up with the idea of testing DNA from the lake a couple of years ago and it resonated with many, including his children, ages 7 and 10.

Graeme Matheson, chief of the Scottish Society of New Zealand, said he, too, has visited Loch Ness and gazed out over the water, and that he wishes Gemmell all the best.

“I hope he and his cohorts find something, although I think they’ll be battling,” Matheson said. “Still, it’s a good way to get a trip to Scotland.”

Gemmell said that even if they don’t find any monster DNA, it won’t deter some Nessie believers. He said they’ve already been offering him theories, like that Nessie might be on vacation after swimming to the sea via hidden underwater caves, or that the creature might be extraterrestrial and not leave behind any DNA.

“In our lives we want there still to be mysteries, some of which we will ultimately solve,” Gemmell said. “That’s part of the spirit of discovery. And sometimes, what you find may not be what you were expecting.”

NASA Is About to Create The Coldest Temperature in The Universe, Using Lasers in Space

In the quest for ever-colder temperatures, NASA is sending an apparatus to the International Space Station that will create a spot 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space.

It’s called the Cold Atom Laboratory, a payload about the size of an ice chest aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus rocket, and it will help scientists observe the weird quantum properties of ultra-cold atoms.

A combination of lasers and magnets will be used to chill and slow a cloud of atoms to just a fraction above absolute zero, also known as zero Kelvin (-273.15 Celsius or -459.67 Fahrenheit).

Absolute zero is the coldest temperature in the Universe – and impossible to achieve, because at that point, atoms stop moving.

But the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) can cool clouds of atoms to just one-tenth of a billion of a degree above absolute zero, which causes them to move extremely slowly, exhibiting microscopic quantum phenomena.

These clouds are called Bose-Einstein condensates. They can be created on Earth, but there’s a catch – gravity. It drags them downwards very quickly, so they can only be observed for a fraction of a second.

The microgravity environment aboard the ISS will overcome this significant problem, allowing scientists on Earth operating the equipment remotely to observe the atoms for up to 10 seconds.

This will be the longest we’ve ever been able to observe Bose-Einstein condensates, by a wide margin.

This has several scientific benefits. Because Bose-Einstein condensates are what is known as a superfluid – a type of fluid with zero viscosity – it will help us understand them better.

“If you had superfluid water and spun it around in a glass, it would spin forever,” CAL project manager Anita Sengupta of JPL said last year.

“There’s no viscosity to slow it down and dissipate the kinetic energy. If we can better understand the physics of superfluids, we can possibly learn to use those for more efficient transfer of energy.”

It could also help advance superconductivity, and devices such as superconducting quantum interference devices, quantum computers, and laser-cooled atomic clocks. It could allow for the observation of never-before-seen quantum phenomena.

And it could even help detect and understand dark energy, the unknown force accelerating the expansion of the Universe.

“Studying these hyper-cold atoms could reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity,” said CAL project scientist Robert Thompson of JPL.

“The experiments we’ll do with the Cold Atom Lab will give us insight into gravity and dark energy – some of the most pervasive forces in the universe.”

The Cold Atom Laboratory isn’t the only science payload departing for the ISS on Cygnus.

The rocket will also be carrying a handheld sextant to test for emergency star navigation (not to be confused with SEXTANT, the ground-breaking technology that uses pulsars as guide stars); and biomolecule sequencing technology, for sequencing microbes found aboard the ISS.

China marks a key private rocket launch

American companies currently dominate the private spaceflight industry, but that might not be true for much longer. China’s OneSpace Technologies launched its first rocket on May 16th, effectively kicking off the era of private space transportation in the country. The single-stage OS-X vehicle didn’t technically enter space during its test flight (it reached an altitude of ‘just’ 25 miles) and was funded by the state-backed Aviation Industry Corporation, but it’s still early days for what promises to be an ambitious program.

Ultimately, OneSpace hopes to become a go-to option for launching small satellites into orbit, with 10 launches due in 2019. A rival, i-Space, doesn’t expect to start orbital delivery missions until 2021. While it won’t carry nearly as much cargo as companies like SpaceX or Orbital ATK and is relying on non-reusable rockets, the simpler construction could lower costs for companies and government agencies that have modest needs.

The launch also signals a rapid start for commercial spaceflight in China. The nation only cleared private spaceflight in 2015, so companies haven’t had much time to develop their own rockets. Even with government help, OneSpace is moving relatively quickly. It’s mainly a question of whether or not these companies become truly independent of the Chinese government and launch missions that are solely intended for other businesses.

Orbital ATK will launch an Antares rocket to the International Space Station on Monday morning

Early risers on the US East Coast might get a bit of a show tomorrow morning: private space company Orbital ATK will launch its Antares rocket with a Cygnus spacecraft at 4:39 AM EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The mission is the company’s ninth flight for NASA, and is headed to the International Space Station, where it will drop off a 7,400 pounds of scientific equipment and supplies when it docks on Thursday, May 24th.

One piece of equipment that the rocket will carry is the Cold Atom Laboratory, which will use magnetic fields and lasers to create clouds of atoms called Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), cooled to just above absolute zero. On Earth, those BECs are dragged down by gravity, limiting the amount of time they can be observed, but aboard the microgravity environment of the ISS, they can be observed for much longer — up to 10 seconds, and should give scientists some insight into how the particles interact with one another.

Once the Cygnus spacecraft departs the station seven weeks from now, it will release a six CubeSats. The tiny satellites will carry everything from miniature, experimental radar instruments to study precipitation in Earth’s atmosphere to new technologies designed to cut through the growing amount of radio frequency interference around Earth. The Cygnus will also carry a new communications system called the Common Communication for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2)m for the first time.

If the weather is clear, residents from Massachusetts to South Carolina might be able to see the rocket lift off early tomorrow morning. Orbital ATK’s last mission to the ISS took place last November, and the company is scheduled to perform another mission later this fall.

China takes a critical first step toward landing on the far side of the Moon

China’s space agency has taken a critical first step toward an unprecedented robotic landing on the far side of the Moon. On Monday, local time, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation launched a Long March 4C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Although it did not broadcast the launch, the Chinese space agency said it went smoothly, according to the state news service Xinhua.

“The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the Moon,” Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, told Xinhua.

About 25 minutes after the launch, the Queqiao spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage, and began a trip toward a halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2. Over the next six months, the 425kg spacecraft will undergo tests to ensure it will function properly as a communications relay.

If so, China will then attempt to launch the Chang’e 4 spacecraft late this year, which will try to make an unprecedented soft landing on the far side of the Moon. This mission will also include a rover to undertake scientific excursions.

However, because the far side of the Moon is the far side, a lander and rover there cannot have a direct line of sight for communications with Earth. Hence the need for the relay spacecraft at L2, which can capture data from the Chang’e 4 lander and send it back to Earth. The relay spacecraft will use S-band and X-band frequencies to communicate.

Of note, the Queqiao spacecraft—which means Magpie bridge and is a reference to Chinese folklore—will also carry two scientific instruments. One is a Dutch radio antenna, which will study celestial radio frequencies blocked by Earth’s atmosphere. The other instrument is a large-aperture laser angle reflector for ranging measurements between Earth and the spacecraft.

The relay spacecraft should reach its L2 halo orbit in about eight days.