In brief: Science & Nature

  • In this Thursday, March 19, 2020 photo made available by SpaceX, astronauts Doug Hurley, foreground, and Bob Behnken work in SpaceX’s flight simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, run a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. (SpaceX via AP)

NASA’s newest test pilots are veteran astronauts, friends

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— The two astronauts who will test drive SpaceX’s brand new rocketship are classmates and friends, veteran spacefliers married to veteran spacefliers, and fathers of young sons.

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Together, they will end a nine-year drought for NASA when they blast into orbit next week from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Retired Marine Col. Doug Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing, a fitting assignment for the pilot of NASA’s last space shuttle flight.

Air Force Col. Bob Behnken, a mechanical engineer with six spacewalks on his resume, will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, are NASA’s first test pilot crew in decades. Their flight will mark the return of NASA astronaut launches to the U.S., the first by a private company.

Hurley and Behnken — both two-time space shuttle fliers — were among four astronauts chosen in 2015 for NASA’s commercial crew program.

Largest, hottest shield volcano discovered by UH researchers

The largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth was revealed by researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. In a recent study, a team of volcanologists and ocean explorers used several lines of evidence to determine Puhahonu, a volcano within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, holds this distinction.

Geoscientists and the public have long thought Mauna Loa was the largest volcano in the world. However, after surveying the ocean floor along the mostly submarine Hawaiian leeward volcano chain, chemically analyzing rocks and modeling the results of these studies, the research team came to a new conclusion. Puhahonu, meaning “turtle rising for breath” in Hawaiian, is nearly twice as big as Mauna Loa.

In 1974, Puhahonu (then called Gardner Pinnacles) was suspected to be the largest Hawaiian volcano based on very limited survey data. Subsequent studies concluded that Mauna Loa was the largest volcano, but they included the root of the volcano that is below the seafloor that was not considered in the 1974 study. The new comprehensive surveying and modeling, using methods similar to those used for Mauna Loa, show that Puhahonu is the largest.

Study: World carbon pollution falls 17% during pandemic peak

KENSINGTON, Maryland — The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17% at the peak of the pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.

But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to climate change, scientists said.

In their study of carbon dioxide emissions during the coronavirus pandemic, an international team of scientists calculated that pollution levels are heading back up — and for the year will end up between 4% and 7% lower than 2019 levels. That’s still the biggest annual drop in carbon emissions since World War II.

It’ll be 7% if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, 4% if they are lifted soon.

For a week in April, the United States cut its carbon dioxide levels by about one-third. China, the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping gases, sliced its carbon pollution by nearly a quarter in February, according to a study Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change. India and Europe cut emissions by 26% and 27% respectively.

The biggest global drop was from April 4 through 9 when the world was spewing 18.7 million tons of carbon pollution a day less than it was doing on New Year’s Day.

However, by April 30, the world carbon pollution levels had grown by 3.3 million tons a day from its low point earlier in the month. Carbon dioxide stays in the air for about a century.

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Such low global emission levels haven’t been recorded since 2006.

By local and wire sources

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