New coins celebrate Indigenous astronomy, the stars, and the dark spaces between them



The Seven Sisters Uncirculated Coin.
Royal Australian Mint

Duane W. Hamacher, University of Melbourne

Two new coins have been released by the Royal Australian Mint to celebrate the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They feature artworks from Wiradjuri (NSW) and Yamaji (WA) artists that represent two of the most famous features in Aboriginal astronomy: the great Emu in the Sky and the Seven Sisters.

Both celestial features are found in the astronomical traditions of many Aboriginal cultures across Australia. They are seen in similar ways and have similar meanings between cultures on opposite sides of the continent and are observed to note the changing seasons and the behaviours of plants and animals and inform Law.

The project has been three years in the making, with the third and final coin in the series to be released in mid-2021.




Read more:
Kindred skies: ancient Greeks and Aboriginal Australians saw constellations in common


Gugurmin – The Emu in the Sky

The Wiradjuri of central New South Wales are the largest Aboriginal language group in the state and one of the largest in the country. Wiradjuri astronomical knowledge is rich and complex, linking the land and people to the cosmos (Wantanggangura). Traditional star knowledge features bright constellations of stars, as well as constellations comprising the spaces between the stars.

One of the many “dark constellations” is that of the celestial emu, called Gugurmin. The emu is a silhouette of the dark spaces stretching from the Southern Cross to Sagittarius in the backdrop of the Milky Way. The galaxy itself is a river called Gular (or Gilaa), which is also the Wiradjuri name of the Lachlan River.

Two decorative coins with Indigenous designs.
Two new uncirculated silver $1 coins commemorate Indigenous astronomy.
Royal Australian Mint



Read more:
Stories from the sky: astronomy in Indigenous knowledge


Wiradjuri watch when Gugurmin rises in the sky after sunset as a signal marking the emu’s behaviour patterns and changing seasons. When it rises at dusk in April and May, it signals the start of the emu breeding season, when the birds begin mating and nesting. By June and July, the male emus are sitting in the nest, incubating the eggs. In August and September, the chicks begin hatching.

The Emu in the Sky coin features the work of Wiradjuri artist Scott “Sauce” Towney from Peak Hill, NSW. Sauce specialises in drawing and pyrography (wood burning) and was a finalist in the NSW Premier’s Indigenous Art Awards. The edge of the coin shows a male emu sitting on the eggs during the months of June and July when his celestial counterpart is stretched across the sky. It also shows men dancing in a ceremony, which takes place in August and September.

Gugurmin was one of the artworks Sauce created for a project entitled Wiradjuri Murriyang (“Wiradjuri Sky World”). This featured 13 traditional constellations for use in local school education programs, as well as public outreach. His art was incorporated into the Stellarium planetarium software, enabling users around the world to see the movements of the stars from a Wiradjuri perspective.

Sauce’s work was incorporated into the Australian National Curriculum for the Year 7/8 module on digital technology and managing Indigenous astronomical knowledge.




Read more:
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Nyarluwarri – The Seven Sisters

The artwork featured on the Seven Sisters coin is from Wajarri-Noongar artist Christine “Jugarnu” Collard of Yamaji Art. Christine was born and raised in Mullewa, Western Australia and paints under the name Jugarnu meaning “old woman” in the Wajarri language. The name was given to Christine by her now deceased Grandfather.

The Yamaji people of the Murchison region in Western Australia refer to the Pleiades star cluster as Nyarluwarri in the Wajarri language, representing seven sisters. When Nyarluwarri sits low on the horizon at sunset in April, the people know that emu eggs are ready for harvesting.

Seven Sisters painting by Christine Jugarnu Collard and the Pleiades star cluster.
Christine Collard, Yamaji Art

The story of the Seven Sisters tells of them fleeing to the sky to escape the advances of a man who wants to take one of the sisters as his wife. The man chases the sisters as they move from east to west each night, which appear to the northeast at dusk in November and set by April.

At the same time Nyarluwarri sets after the Sun in the west, the celestial emu (which is also featured in Yamaji traditions) rises in the southeast. Both serve as important seasonal markers.

The Seven Sisters and the Emu in the Sky were major themes in the Ilgarijiri – Things Belonging to the Sky art exhibition. This project saw radio astronomers and Yamaji artists come together to share knowledge under the stars at the site of the new Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.




Read more:
Indigenous culture and astrophysics: a path to reconciliation


The Conversation


Duane W. Hamacher, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Asteroid 2018 VP₁ may be heading for Earth. But there’s no need to worry



Asteroid 2018 VP1 itself is too small and far away to see clearly, so here’s an artist’s impression of a near-Earth object.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Jonti Horner, University of Southern Queensland

Social media around the world lit up over the weekend, discussing the possibility that an asteroid (known as 2018 VP₁) could crash into Earth on November 2.

It seemed only fitting. What better way to round off a year that has seen catastrophic floods, explosions, fires, and storms – and, of course, a global pandemic?

A massive planetesimal, smashing into Earth. Exactly what won’t happen on November 2 with 2018 VP₁…
NASA/Don Davis

But you can rest easy. The asteroid does not pose a threat to life on Earth. Most likely, it will sail harmlessly past our planet. At worst, it will burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere and create a firework show for some lucky Earthlings.

So, what’s the story?

Our story begins a couple of years ago, on November 3, 2018. That night, the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in Southern California discovered a faint new “near-Earth asteroid” – an object whose orbit can approach, or cross, that of our planet.

Black and white photo of an asteroid.
The near-Earth asteroid Eros, which is thousands of times larger than 2018 VP₁.
NASA / JPL

At the time of its discovery, 2018 VP₁ was roughly 450,000 kilometres from Earth – a little farther than the average distance between Earth and the Moon (around 384,000km).

The asteroid was very faint, and hard to spot against the background stars. Astronomers were only able to watch it for 13 days, before it was too far from Earth to see.




Read more:
Why dangerous asteroids heading to Earth are so hard to detect


Based on that short series of observations, it became clear the asteroid is a kind of near-Earth object called an “Apollo asteroid”.

Apollo asteroids spend most of their time beyond Earth’s orbit, but swing inward across our planet’s orbit at the innermost part of their journey around the Sun. 2018 VP₁ takes two years to go around the Sun, swinging just inside Earth’s orbit every time it reaches “perihelion” (its closest approach to our star).

Diagram showing the intersecting orbits of asteroid 2018 VP₁ and Earth.
The orbit of asteroid 2018 VP₁ intersects Earth’s orbit once every two years.
NASA / JPL

Because 2018 VP₁’s orbit takes almost exactly two years, in 2020 (two years after discovery), it will once again pass close to Earth.

But how close will it come? Well, that’s the million-dollar question.

Anything from a collision to a very distant miss …

To work out an object’s exact path through the Solar system, and to predict where it will be in the future (or where it was in the past), astronomers need to gather observations.

We need at least three data points to estimate an object’s orbit – but that will only give us a very rough guess. The more observations we can get, and the longer the time period they span, the better we can tie down the orbit.

And that’s why the future of 2018 VP₁ is uncertain. It was observed 21 times over 13 days, which allows its orbit to be calculated fairly precisely. We know it takes 2 years (plus or minus 0.001314 years) to go around the Sun. In other words, our uncertainty in the asteroid’s orbital period is about 12 hours either way.

That’s actually pretty good, given how few observations were made – but it means we can’t be certain exactly where the asteroid will be on November 2 this year.




Read more:
Extinction alert: saving the world from a deadly asteroid impact


However, we can work out the volume of space within which we can be confident that the asteroid will lie at a given time. Imagine a huge bubble in space, perhaps 4 million km across at its largest. We can be very confident the asteroid will be somewhere in the bubble – but that’s about it.

What does that mean for Earth? Well, it turns out the closest approach between the two this year will be somewhere between a direct hit and an enormous miss – with the asteroid coming no closer than 3.7 million km!

We can also work out the likelihood the asteroid will hit Earth during this close approach. The odds are 0.41%, or roughly 1 in 240. In other words, by far the most likely outcome on November 2 is the asteroid will sail straight past us.

But what if it did hit us?

As the great Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten”. But have you ever heard someone say “It’s a 240-to-1 chance, but it might just work?”

So should we be worried?

Well, the answer here goes back to how hard it was to spot 2018 VP₁ in the first place. Based on how faint it was, astronomers estimate it’s only about 2 metres across. Objects that size hit Earth all the time.

Bigger asteroids do more damage, as we were spectacularly reminded back in February 2013, when an asteroid around 20 metres across exploded in the atmosphere above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

A collection of footage of the Chelyabinsk airburst, and its aftermath, on 15 Feb 2013.

The Chelyabinsk airburst was spectacular, and the shockwave damaged buildings and injured more than 1,500 people. But that was an object ten times the diameter of 2018 VP₁ – which means it was probably at least 1,000 times heavier, and could penetrate far further into the atmosphere before meeting its fiery end.




Read more:
Chelyabinsk meteor explosion a ‘wake-up call’, scientists warn


2018 VP₁ is so small it poses no threat. It would almost certainly burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere before it reached the ground. Most likely, it would detonate in an “airburst”, tens of kilometres above the ground – leaving only tiny fragments to drift down to the surface.

If 2018 VP₁ is particularly robust (a chunk of a metal asteroid, rather than a stony or icy one), it could make it to the ground – but even then, it is way too small to cause significant damage.

Having said that, the fireball as the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere would be spectacular. If we were really lucky, it might be captured on camera by the Global Fireball network (led by Curtin University).

A bright fireball, imaged by the Perenjori station of the Australian Desert Fireball Network. By observing fireballs like this from multiple locations, researchers can track down any fragments that make it down to the ground.
Wikipedia/Formanlv

With images of the fireball from several cameras, researchers could work out where any debris might fall and head out to recover it. A freshly fallen meteorite is a pristine fragment from which we can learn a great deal about the Solar system’s history.

The bottom line

It’s no wonder in a year like this that 2018 VP₁ has generated some excitement and media buzz.

But, most likely, November 3 will come around and nothing will have happened. 2018 VP₁ will have passed by, likely unseen, back to the depths of space.

Even if Earth is in the crosshairs, though, there’s nothing to worry about. At worst, someone, somewhere on the globe, will see a spectacular fireball – and people in the US might just get to see some spectacular pre-election fireworks.

A song that was definitely NOT written to describe 2018 VP₁!

Or to put it another way: “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”.The Conversation

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why outer space matters in a post-pandemic world



Department of Defence

Anna Moore, Australian National University

With all of the immense challenges we face on Earth this year, space can feel like an afterthought.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the hope of a growing space industry was palpable. Ribbons were cut, buildings were dedicated and Australia’s space industry was going to triple in size in just ten years. But a few weeks into March, Europe and then Australia were slowly grinding to a halt as the reality of COVID-19 set in.

Satellite images from ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission in space showed the extent to which the virus lockdown was affecting major cities.

Air pollution plummeted as countries went into lockdown.
ESA

Next came the dramatic global economic downturn that seemed certain to crush Australia’s space ambitions. Consultants began sending a flurry of email surveys to see how everyone in the industry was coping. How would this change the future of our nation’s newest dream?




Read more:
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Suddenly, space is everywhere

Work in the space industry has always continued even under the most difficult circumstances. Missions take years to plan and launch. The global space industry has, out of necessity, always embraced uncertainty. Innovation will not stop. International cooperation is still strong. Missions are continuing.

The first test flight of a Europa-1 first stage rocket, a repurposed British Blue Streak missile, from Woomera, Australia, 5 June 1964.
ESA

It was just announced that the European Union is signing a billion-euro agreement with French global launch services company Arianespace, with the hope of injecting another 16 billion euros into the European space industry by 2027. This is big news for Australia’s space industry too. Our history with Arianespace goes back to its predecessor, which launched the Europa rocket for the first time ever in South Australia in 1964.

NASA and SpaceX are making headlines for the first trip to the International Space Station in a commercially built and operated American spacecraft with astronauts on board. China’s space program is rapidly developing and an upcoming mission could make it the second country to land and operate a spacecraft on Mars.

Australia’s space capabilities

In this multinational mix, Australia has much to offer. We are currently leaders in advanced and quantum communication that would make deep space communication possible, as well as creating unhackable communications on Earth.

Our government has taken steps to realise these opportunities through its first round of funding to accelerate the industry and galvanise the future of our space agency.

Ten strategic space projects just received government funding to help Australia build relationships with other international space agencies. In defence funding announcements last week, space was highlighted as one of the five defence domains for a strong Australian Defence Force.

A quick recovery

We are now seeing some amazing post-COVID wins for Australia. Planet Innovation, a Melbourne-based company, was the only Australian manufacturer to be chosen by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make an innovative COVID ventilator. More than 300 companies around the world applied for the opportunity.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk suggested Hobart-based boat builder, Incat, could help build “floating, superheavy-class space ports for Mars, Moon and hypersonic travel around the Earth.” Fleet Space Technologies and Oz Minerals were just awarded a grant to use space technology in mineral exploration.

A few weeks ago, the Australian National University National Space Test Facility (NSTF) was the first non-COVID research facility at the university to reopen. Its first project was testing a piece of space equipment created by Australian company Gilmour Space Technologies that will fly on an Australian space mission in 2022.

Next, the NSTF team performed testing for Fleet Space Technologies, who drove their components from Adelaide to Canberra as there were no connecting flights. The NSTF has been continuously testing other space components for Australian missions since it reopened.

These are all hard-won successes in the face of COVID, and they speak volumes about the promise of Australia’s space industry.




Read more:
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Space will help Australia recover

Our space industry also enables others. Space technologies are transferrable to Earth-bound sectors such as health and mining, and the industry helps economic recovery because it operates at many scales from small research projects to large multi-disciplinary initiatives.

Our nation is set to give rise to bespoke satellites that are proprietary to Australia. We will have our own satellite constellations to address critical issues like drought, water quality management and bushfires.

Our innovation will protect our sovereignty, and global space industry titans like NASA can see our promise with missions like Artemis: Moon to Mars.

Australia’s space industry began in uncertainty, and – despite bushfires, pandemics and massive change – it will succeed under uncertainty.The Conversation

Anna Moore, Director of The Australian National University Institute for Space and the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has long valued an outer space shared by all. Mining profits could change this



moon.

Jeffrey McGee, University of Tasmania and Bin Li, University of Newcastle

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order reaffirming that companies joining US mining activities on the moon would have property rights over lunar resources.

The order also made clear the US wasn’t bound by international treaties on the moon. Instead, the US would set up a bilateral or multilateral legal framework with other like-minded states to govern lunar mining activities.

This bold move by the Trump administration poses some challenging questions for Australia, given our past commitment to international space treaties and our current support the US Artemis lunar program.




Read more:
Giant leap for corporations? The Trump administration wants to mine resources in space, but is it legal?


Australia is a longstanding member of all five space treaties. Also, the terms “international” and “responsible” are two of the principles guiding the Australian Space Agency in designing and implementing its policies and programs.

As such, Australia will need to decide how it plans to respond to Trump’s move and how this will shape its future space policies. Will it continue to hold an “international” view toward the exploitation of resources from outer space?

Or can Australian companies “responsibly” take part in mining of the moon without contravening the country’s treaty obligations?

Space resources as a ‘common heritage of mankind’

The Trump administration’s proposal is potentially at odds with a key principle in the 1979 Moon Treaty known as the “common heritage of mankind” (CHM).

The CHM principle is an important part of other areas of international law, such as the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which sets restrictions on the mining of deep seabed areas that lie outside national marine boundaries. Specifically, it allows commercial mining, but only if the benefits are shared among different countries by the International Seabed Authority.

Under the Moon Treaty, the CHM principle similarly does not give exclusive property rights to any state or individual companies. Instead, it provides for the “equitable” international sharing of space resources.




Read more:
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The treaty also requires its state parties to negotiate international rules governing the exploitation and use of these resources.

As party to the Moon Treaty, Australia is obliged to follow these provisions. However, the US has never joined the treaty. It has criticised the CHM principle several times, and essentially does not support the idea of “equitable” sharing of space resources.

This is why the Trump administration is pursuing a separate framework to govern the exploitation and use of resources on the moon.

A difficult balancing act for Australia

There are now some concerns Australia could shift from its commitment to the CHM principle and side with the US view that states and companies should be permitted to freely exploit space resources.

Perhaps due to Australia’s obligations under the Moon Treaty, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not say anything about the possibility of Australian involvement in mining on the moon when promising to support NASA’s Artemis program last September.




Read more:
All of humanity should share in the space mining boom


Instead, Morrison vaguely pledged $150 million investment into Australian businesses and new technologies to help the country become more competitive in the space industry and better support future US space missions to Mars and the moon.

However, NASA may be looking for a different type of collaboration with Australia, focused more on Australian mining capabilities.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Australian Financial Review last year that Australian mining companies could have a very specific role to play in space.

…the lunar missions will rely on turning hundreds of millions of tons of mined water ice recently discovered on the moon into liquid forms of hydrogen and oxygen to power spacecraft. That autonomous capability of extracting resources is something that Australia has in its toolkit.

Although there have been no clear messages from the Australian mining industry about whether they have interest in mining on the moon, companies such as Rio Tinto have already been developing the relevant technologies.




Read more:
Australia can pick up its game and land a Moon mission


When finalising a specific plan to implement its $150 million investment in space research, the Australian government needs to think carefully about how to comply with its treaty obligations, including CHM, while still supporting its approach to NASA’s lunar program.

Australia needs to decide what it values more – an outer space shared by all, or the profits from possible mining deals that come from a more exclusive approach to space.The Conversation

Jeffrey McGee, Associate Professor, University of Tasmania and Bin Li, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone – we must reclaim public space lost to the coronavirus crisis



At a deserted Federation Square in Melbourne, the big screen broadcasts this message: ‘If you can see this, what are you doing? Go home.’
Cassie Zervos/Twitter

Kurt Iveson, University of Sydney

Authorities have imposed significant restrictions on the size, purpose and location of gatherings in public space to slow the transmission of COVID-19. The massive impacts of these escalating restrictions over the past two months show us just how significant public spaces are for the life of our cities. A longer-term concern is the risk that living with these measures might normalise restrictions on, and surveillance of, our access to public space and one another.

Right now, public health is the priority. But access to public spaces was already significantly and unjustly restricted for many people before the coronavirus pandemic. Current restrictions could both intensify existing inequalities in access and reinforce trends towards “locking down” public space.




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We must ensure these restrictions do not become permanent. And once the crisis is over, we also should act on existing inequitable restrictions.

Restrictions have inequitable impacts

Unless public health interventions are enacted with an awareness of their profoundly uneven consequences, we may well “flatten the curve” in ways that add to existing inequalities and injustices.

Research suggests restrictions on public space have greater impacts on people who have less access to private space. People without stable homes, and those with restricted access to domestic space, tend to live more of their lives in public. Public space restrictions have far greater consequences for these people.

We can see this relationship very clearly: the restrictions are paired with instructions to stay at home. This applies to everyone. But, while it’s inconvenient for some, it’s impossible for others.

It’s certainly the case for the homeless. It will also be true of others. For instance, students may be living in crowded conditions in shared, family or informal accommodation, with no access to quiet private space for study.

This is why researchers and activists are demanding restrictions on public space be accompanied by provisions to make such people’s lives less precarious. Suggested measures include a moratorium on evictions and safe and free accommodation for rough sleepers.




Read more:
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Research also shows us restrictions on public gatherings and public space were a feature of everyday urban life for many people well before physical distancing came in.

Young people of colour who gather in small groups in public spaces frequently report being stopped, searched and moved on by police and security guards. People on low incomes were already excluded from commercial public spaces like cafes and shopping malls. People asking for spare change or leafleting passers-by were barred from quasi-public spaces that are subject to special restrictions. People who cannot climb stairs were unable to use basic public infrastructure, like train stations, that lacks lift or ramp access. The list goes on.

These pre-existing restrictions were the product of exclusion and injustice. We should not have tolerated this before the crisis and it demands our renewed attention after the crisis.

We also know authorities responsible for regulating public space, including police, tend to enforce rules and restrictions selectively. In New South Wales and Victoria, police chiefs have been explicit that police will use their discretion in enforcing current restrictions.

The problem is this use of discretion can be informed by stereotype and prejudice. For communities who already felt unfairly targeted by police, statements about the use of discretion will be far from reassuring.




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‘Temporary’ really must be temporary

We must guard against a common tendency for temporary measures to become more permanent. Some of the extraordinary powers given to police to break up gatherings and fine people who fail to observe restrictions have been time-limited. But having been used once for a particular problem, the risk is such powers might be enacted more often in future.

We have seen this happen with closures of public space for commercial events. Each closure is justified as being only temporary, but such closures have become increasingly common. The cumulative effect is a creeping commercialisation of public space.

One can also see how “temporary” experiments with digital surveillance to slow contagion could become permanent. Tech corporations are offering analyses of mobile phone and other data to profile public activity and to trace the movements and contacts of individuals who have contracted the coronavirus.

It’s the latest step in the datafication of urban everyday life. This process erodes privacy and grants more and more power to corporations and governments. It is easy to see how “contact tracing” could also be applied to protesters or stigmatised minorities.




Read more:
Darwin’s ‘smart city’ project is about surveillance and control


Normalisation of restrictions must be resisted

Coronavirus-related restrictions are obvious to us because they have been imposed so rapidly. However, we should reflect on how other restrictions have become normalised precisely because they happened gradually, making them less visible and contested.

For example, over the past decade we have seen a creeping “gating” of a public spaces like parks and school ovals. Free access to those spaces has been greatly reduced when they are not in use for organised education or sports.




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Interestingly, as urban authorities try to provide large populations with access to public spaces in which they can maintain recommended physical distance, some existing restrictions are being rethought. Cities are closing streets to cars to give pedestrians more space rather than having to crowd onto footpaths. It will be interesting to see if such measures persist once physical-distancing restrictions are lifted.

Let’s hope our experience of the inconvenience and frustration of restricted access to public space will translate into a more widely shared determination not only to end these restrictions when the health crisis is over, but also to act on the unjust exclusions and restrictions that were already a feature of urban life.

As with so many other aspects of our society, it is not enough simply to go back to how things were before. We must ensure our public spaces are not unjustly restricted when the next crisis comes along.The Conversation

Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography and Research Lead, Sydney Policy Lab, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want to make social distancing even more effective? It’s about time (as well as space)


Mike Lee, Flinders University; Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University, and Craig Dalton, University of Newcastle

While the world waits for an effective vaccine against COVID-19, we are relying heavily on social distancing – perhaps better termed “physical distancing” – to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Physical distancing works because COVID-19 spreads most efficiently when groups of people come into close contact, although there is some evidence the virus can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces.

Modelling suggests Australia can effectively suppress transmission and control the outbreak only if at least 80% of people practise good physical distancing.

At least 80% compliance with physical distancing measures is required to beat Covid-19.
Mikhail Prokopenko/Univ. Sydney (extra labels added)

Government advice for implementing physical distancing has mainly urged people to isolate themselves in space: staying at least 1.5 metres apart, working from home, avoiding gatherings, and minimising travel.

However, effectively separating people in space is extremely challenging. Different people still need access to the same essential locations, such as shops, workplaces and health care facilities.

Temporal distancing

But physical distancing can be done in two ways: spatial distancing (separating people in space) and temporal distancing (separating people in time). Temporal distancing is an easy concept to grasp. Any time we take an early lunch to beat the crowds, or catch a later bus to avoid the commuter crush, we are using temporal distancing.

People are allowed entry into the same spaces – they just need to do so at different times. Of course, temporal distancing needs to be accompanied by fastidious hygiene to eliminate all possibility of COVID-19 transmission via surfaces.

Staggering strategy

Substantial and effective scheduling changes that can be made without too much inconvenience (or where the benefits clearly outweigh the costs) might include:

Reduced supermarket opening hours, as happened in parts of Italy, might not help physical distancing because it compresses customers into the same space during a shorter time window.

The concept of regular work hours could be relaxed a bit more. Morning people might choose to start at 7 am, while night owls could opt for 10 am.

Staggering the end of the school day 15 minutes either side of 3pm would substantially improve physical distancing.
Michael Lee/Flinders Univ./SA Museum

Why it works

The diagram below shows how spatial and temporal distancing can work together to flatten the curve of infections. Imagine a randomly spread population of 1,000 people, one of whom is infected. With free movement, everyone becomes infected within a relatively short time. If we reduce movement by 80% (spatial distancing; dashed curve), the rate of infection is slowed. If we halve the time people spend exposed to one another (temporal distancing; dotted curve), the rate of infection also slows, but not as much. But if we combine both of these measures (red curve), the effect is strongest of all.

Different hypothetical COVID-19 infection scenarios compared to a do-nothing baseline. The first scenario considers a movement probability that’s only 20% of normal (spatial distancing). The second scenario halves the exposure time to represent temporal distancing. The final scenario includes both spatial and temporal distancing. R code to reproduce this graph can be obtained at: https://github.com/cjabradshaw/COVID19distancing.
Corey Bradshaw/Flinders Univ.



Read more:
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Temporal distancing will come with economic and social costs. Working night shifts or irregular hours can cause health problems; organising childcare or work meetings outside ‘regular’ business hours could be challenging; and travel and outdoor activity at night have safety risks. These costs will have to be carefully weighed in any particular instance.

Even after the current pandemic is controlled, there will remain economic incentives for temporal distancing: boom-and-bust cycles are inefficient. Public transport, restaurants, telcos, electricity suppliers, and other service providers already offer off-peak discounts.

Cutting the numbers

Besides using both spatial and temporal distancing, we can further slow the virus by restricting the number of different people we encounter.

For example, while small-group personal fitness training is still allowed, having the same 10 people in each class is better than mixing and matching classes. This would help restrict any infections to a small group, and make contact tracing much easier.

Workplaces and schools could also consider keeping people in consistent teams rather than mixing them up, at least while distancing is required.

Reducing contacts between groups is even more important for older people. Age-stratified visiting or service times, such as the dedicated elderly shopping hours already in place in some supermarkets, might also help reduce transmission between younger people (who generally have higher mixing and infection rates) and older people (who are at greater risk of severe disease).

Social distancing will be a fact of life for months to come. So we need to do it as smartly and efficiently as possible.The Conversation

Mike Lee, Professor in Evolutionary Biology (jointly appointed with South Australian Museum), Flinders University; Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology and Models Theme Leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University, and Craig Dalton, Conjoint Senior Lecturer School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘This crisis has been unfolding for years’: 4 photos of Australia from space, before and after the bushfires



Use the slider tool in the images below to see before and after NASA satellite images of Australia’s fire and drought effects.
NASA

Molly Glassey, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Editor’s note: We pulled four before-and-after-images from NASA’s Worldview application, and asked bushfire researcher Grant Williamson to reflect on the story they tell. Here’s what he told us:


I’ve been studying fires for more than a decade. I use satellite data to try to understand the global and regional patterns in fire – what drives it and how it will shift in the future as our climate and land use patterns change.

When I look at these images I think: this is a crisis we have seen coming for years. It’s something I have been watching unfold.

Look at the sheer scale of it. Seeing this much fire in the landscape in such a broad area, seeing so much severe fire at once, this quantity and concentration of smoke – it is astonishing. I haven’t seen it like this before.

November 1, 2019 and January 3, 2020

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In this comparison, you can see November last year versus now. In the present picture (on the right hand side) you can see a vast quantity of intense fires currently burning right down the eastern seaboard and a huge amount of smoke. It’s been blowing out across toward New Zealand for weeks now.

The scale of the current fires is definitely unusual. In a typical year, you might see, for example, a large fire in the alps (near Mount Kosciuszko) or in the Blue Mountains – but they would be isolated events.

What’s striking here is that there is so much going on at once. I have never seen it like this before.

Black Saturday smoke, Feburary 8, 2009 and the 2019-2020 bushfires smoke, January 3, 2020

This one is comparing two smoke events: one from Black Saturday and one from the current fires. In both cases, huge quantities of smoke was released. Both times, the sort of forest burning is very dense, there is a lot of wet eucalypt forest here which naturally has a high fuel load and that’s creating all that smoke. This type of forest only burns during extreme weather conditions.

Simply due to the scale of it and the fact that it’s been going on so long, I would say the current event is worse than Black Saturday, in terms of the quantity of smoke.

East Australia, 10 years ago vs today

In this image, we can the impact of drought. A decade ago, on the left hand side, it was clearly quite green along eastern Australia. That green shows there is a lot of growing vegetation there: pasture crops, grasses and a very wet environment.

If you compare that to the current year, on the right hand side, you can see it’s now extremely brown and extremely dry. There’s not much in the way of vegetation. That’s a result of drought and high temperatures.

Kangaroo Island, 2 months ago vs today

In this image, you can see Kangaroo Island two months ago on the left hand side, versus today.

The main thing I note here is the drying. The “before” image is so much greener than the “after” image. So there’s a real lack of rainfall that’s driving fire severity in this area. You can really see how much the island has dried out.


This has been an extraordinary year for climate and weather, and that’s manifesting now in these unprecedented bushfires. It’s not over yet.

But what’s important is the lessons we draw from this crisis and doing as much as we can to reduce the risk in future.


Grant Williamson is a Tasmania-based researcher with the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub.The Conversation

Molly Glassey, Digital Editor, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Space can solve our looming resource crisis – but the space industry itself must be sustainable


Richard Matthews, University of Adelaide

Australia’s space industry is set to grow into a multibillion-dollar sector that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and help replenish the dwindling stocks of precious resources on Earth. But to make sure they don’t flame out prematurely, space companies need to learn some key lessons about sustainability.

Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Often this definition is linked to the economic need for growth. In our context, we link it to the social and material needs of our communities.

We cannot grow without limit. In 1972, the influential report The Limits to Growth argued that if society’s growth continued at projected rates, humans would experience a “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity” by 2070. Recent research from the University of Melbourne’s sustainability institute updated and reinforced these conclusions.

Our insatiable hunger for resources increases as we continue to strive to improve our way of life. But how does our resource use relate to the space industry?




Read more:
Dig deep: Australia’s mining know-how makes it the perfect $150m partner for NASA’s Moon and Mars shots


There are two ways we could try to avert this forecast collapse: we could change our behaviour from consumption to conservation, or we could find new sources to replenish our stocks of non-renewable resources. Space presents an opportunity to do the latter.

Asteroids provide an almost limitless opportunity to mine rare earth metals such as gold, cobalt, nickle and platinum, as well as the resources required for the future exploration of our solar system, such as water ice. Water ice is crucial to our further exploration efforts as it can be refined into liquid water, oxygen, and rocket fuel.

But for future space missions to top up our dwindling resources on Earth, our space industries themselves must be sustainable. That means building a sustainable culture in these industries as they grow.

How do we measure sustainability?

Triple bottom-line accounting is one of the most common ways to assess the sustainability of a company, based on three crucial areas of impact: social, environmental, and financial. A combined framework can be used to measure performance in these areas.

In 2006, UTS sustainable business researcher Suzanne Benn and her colleagues introduced a method for assessing the corporate sustainability of an organisation in the social and environmental areas. This work was extended in 2014 by her colleague Bruce Perrott to include the financial dimension.

This model allows the assessment of an organisation based on one of six levels of sustainability. The six stages, in order, are: rejection, non-responsiveness, compliance, efficiency, strategic proactivity, and the sustaining corporation.

Sustainability benchmarking the space industry

In my research, which I presented this week at the Australian Space Research Conference in Adelaide, I used these models to assess the sustainability of the American space company SpaceX.

Using freely available information about SpaceX, I benchmarked the company as compliant (level 3 of 6) within the sustainability framework.

While SpaceX has been innovative in designing ways to travel into space, this innovation has not been for environmental reasons. Instead, the company is focused on bringing down the cost of launches.

SpaceX also relies heavily on government contracts. Its profitability has been questioned by several analysts with the capital being raised through the use of loans and the sale of future tickets in the burgeoning space tourism industry. Such a transaction might be seen as an exercise in revenue generation, but accountants would classify such a sale as a liability.

The growing use of forward sales is a growing concern for the industry, with other tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic failing to secure growth. It has been reported that Virgin Galactic will run out of customers by 2023 due to the high costs associated with space travel.




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NASA and space tourists might be in our future but first we need to decide who can launch from Australia


SpaceX’s culture also rates poorly for sustainability. As at many startups, employees at SpaceX are known to work more than 80 hours a week without taking their mandatory breaks. This problem was the subject of a lawsuit settled in 2017. Such behaviour contravenes Goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to achieve “decent work for all”.

What’s next?

Australia is in a unique position. As the newest player in the global space industry, the investment opportunity is big. The federal government predicts that by 2030, the space sector could be a A$12 billion industry employing 20,000 people.

Presentations at the Australian Space Research Conference by the Australian Space Agency made one thing clear: regulation is coming. We can use this to gain a competitive edge.




Read more:
From tourism to terrorists, fast-moving space industries create new ethical challenges


By embedding sustainability principles into emerging space startups, we can avoid the economic cost of having to correct bad behaviours later.

We will gain the first-mover advantage on implementing these principles, which will in turn increase investor confidence and improve company valuations.

To ensure that the space sector can last long enough to provide real benefits for Australia and the world, its defining principle must be sustainability.The Conversation

Richard Matthews, Research Associate | Councillor, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dig deep: Australia’s mining know-how makes it the perfect $150m partner for NASA’s Moon and Mars shots


Andrew Dempster, UNSW

In the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s meeting with US President Donald Trump, the Australian government announced on Sunday a commitment of A$150million “into our local businesses and new technologies that will support NASA on its inspirational campaign to return to the Moon and travel to Mars”.

It is unclear at this point where the government intends to spend this money, but there’s no harm in some reflective speculation.




Read more:
The big global space agencies rely on Australia – let’s turn that to our advantage


Because this new commitment is to deep space missions, clearly it is separate from the A$245 million being invested in Australia’s Smartsat Cooperative Research Centre or the A$4.5 million for the Centre for Cubesats, UAVs and their Applications, both of which are generally looking at applications in Earth orbit.

The funding should also be separate from that committed to two Australian Space Agency initiatives: the A$6 million Mission Control Centre for South Australia, and the A$4.5 million Robotics, Automation and Artificial Intelligence Command and Control Centre for Western Australia. Both of these centres could, however, be used in any planned Moon and Mars initiatives.

The funding allocation should also not include the money already committed to space projects by CSIRO under its Space Technology Future Science Platforms initiative.

Where should it be spent?

In thinking about where the money can be spent, it’s worth noting the brief is explicitly to “support NASA”. So, where could Australia help?

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, centrepiece of the Artemis mission, will need lots of technical support.
NASA

NASA’s two main lunar initiatives are the Lunar Gateway and Project Artemis, both of which have been mentioned in relation to Australia’s funding pledge. Mars may be the long-term destination, but the Moon is where it’s at right now.

The Lunar Gateway is infrastructure: a spacecraft placed in a halo orbit (always in view of Earth) that is sometimes as close as 3,000km to the Moon’s surface. It will be used as a hub for astronauts, equipment and communications, and a staging post for lunar landings and returns.

Artemis aims to use NASA’s large new rocket, the Space Launch System, to deliver astronauts, including the first woman to walk on the Moon, to the lunar surface by 2024. It will develop a host of new technologies and is openly collaborative.




Read more:
Why isn’t Australia in deep space?


One contribution that cannot be ignored in this context is the technology emerging from Australia’s dominant mining industry. The strength in robotics, automation and remote operations has led to the above-mentioned robotics centre being slated for WA. What’s more, the Australian Remote Operations in Space and on Earth institute, a wide-ranging industry collaboration launched in July, is also likely to be headquartered in WA.

Another area where Australia is developing interesting technology is in optical communications with spacecraft, being driven by research at the Australian National University. At a recent CSIRO workshop to develop “flagship” missions for Australia, the idea of using lasers to beam communications rapidly to the Moon and back was highly rated.

Putting ideas out there

Of the nine possible flagships considered, seven are potentially relevant to the new funding. These include a space weather satellite, an asteroid detection system, a cubesat to Mars, a radiotelescope on the Moon, and a solar sail that could power spacecraft to the Moon. There are plenty of good Australian ideas around.

However, the flagship most closely related to the content of the announcement was a project proposal (disclosure: it’s mine!) that would place an orbiter around the Moon and design a lander/rover to establish our ability to extract water from permanent ice. Water can be used for many things in a settlement, and when split into hydrogen and oxygen it can be used as rocket fuel to move things around, including to Mars.




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Australia can pick up its game and land a Moon mission


All of our research in this area has focused on how this can be done in a commercial way, very much in line with the philosophy of “Space 2.0”. We are putting together a significant team of academics, companies (not just mining and space ones), and agencies to pursue these missions seriously.

There has never been a better time to be working in the space sector in Australia. I and all of my colleagues in the field hope the latest announcement is the next step in establishing the vibrant, sustainable space industry so many in Australia now see as achievable.The Conversation

Andrew Dempster, Director, Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research; Professor, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

India has it right: nations either aim for the Moon or get left behind in the space economy



India’s Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission blasts off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, on 22 July 2019.
Indian Space Research Organisation/EPA

Nicholas Borroz, University of Auckland

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft has settled into lunar orbit, ahead of its scheduled Moon landing on September 7. If it succeeds India will join a very select club, now comprising the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.

As with all previous Moon missions, national prestige is a big part of India’s Moon shot. But there are some colder calculations behind it as well. Space is poised to become a much bigger business, and both companies and countries are investing in the technological capability to ensure they reap the earthly rewards.

Last year private investment in space-related technology skyrocketed to US$3.25 billion, according to the London-based Seraphim Capital – a 29% increase on the previous year.

The list of interested governments is also growing. Along with China and India joining the lunar A-list, in the past decade eight countries have founded space agencies – Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon on 11 January 2019. This image taken with the lander’s camera shows the mission’s lunar rover Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit 2.
China National Space Administration/EPA

Of prime interest is carving out a piece of the market for making and launching commercial payloads. As much as we already depend on satellites now, this dependence will only grow.

In 2018 382 objects were launched into space. By 2040 it might easily be double that, with companies like Amazon planning “constellations”, composed of thousands of satellites, to provide telecommunication services.

The satellite business is just a start. The next big prize will be technology for “in-situ resource utilisation” – using materials from space for space operations. One example is extracting water from the Moon (which could also be split to provide oxygen and hydrogen-based rocket fuel). NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, has suggested Australian agencies and companies could play a key role in this.




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Australia: well placed to join the Moon mining race … or is it?


All up, the potential gains from a slice of the space economy are huge. It is estimated the space economy could grow from about US$350 billion now to more than US$1 trillion (and as possibly as much US$2,700 billion) in 2040.

Launch affordability

At the height of its Apollo program to land on the Moon, NASA got more than 4% of the US federal budget. As NASA gears up to return to the Moon and then go to Mars, its budget share is about 0.5%.

In space money has most definitely become an object. But it’s a constraint that’s spurring innovation and opening up economic opportunities.

NASA pulled the pin on its space shuttle program in 2011 when the expected efficiencies of a resusable launch vehicle failed to pan out. Since then it has bought seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to get its astronauts into space. It is now paying SpaceX, the company founded by electric car king Elon Musk, to deliver space cargo.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft just moments after undocking from the International Space Station on 8 March 2019.
NASA/EPA

SpaceX’s stellar trajectory, having entered the business a little more than a decade ago, demonstrates the possibilities for new players.

To get something into orbit using the space shuttle cost about US$54,500 a kilogram. SpaceX says the cost of its Falcon 9 rocket and reuseable Dragon spacecraft is about US$2,700 a kilogram. With costs falling, the space economy is poised to boom.




Read more:
How SpaceX lowered costs and reduced barriers to space


Choosing a niche

As the space economy grows, it’s likely different countries will come to occupy different niches. Specialisation will be the key to success, as happens for all industries.

In the hydrocarbon industry, for instance, some countries extract while others process. In the computer industry, some countries design while others manufacture.
There will be similar niches in space. Governments’ policies will play a big part in determining which nation fills which niche.

There are three ways to think about niches.

First, function. A country could focus on space mining, for instance, or space observation. It could act as a space communication hub, or specialise in developing space-based weapons.

Luxembourg is an example of functional specialisation. Despite its small size, it punches above its weight in the satellite industry. Another example is Russia, which for now has the monopoly on transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin flanked by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, as they prepare for their launch aboard the Soyuz MS-12 in March 2019.
Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Second, value-adding. A national economy can focus on lower or higher value-add processes. In telecommunications, for example, much of the design work is done in the United States, while much of the manufacturing happens in China. Both roles have benefits and drawbacks.

Third, blocs. Global production networks sometimes fragment. One can already see the potential for this happening between the United States and China. If it occurs, other countries must either align with one bloc or remain neutral.

Aligning with a large power ensures patronage, but also dependence. Being between blocs has its risks, but also provides opportunities to gain from each bloc and act as an intermediary.




Read more:
The economic reasons why Australia needs a stronger space industry


The first space race, between the Soviet Union and the United States, was singularly driven by political will and government policy. The new space race is more complex, with private players taking the lead in many ways, but government priorities and policy are still crucial. They will determine which countries reach the heights, and which get left behind.The Conversation

Nicholas Borroz, PhD candidate in international business and comparative political economy, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.