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In The News

Libya PM Targeted, Russia-Belarus Drills, Gazpacho Tactics

Students of Kolkata's Aliah University protesting against the Hijab ban enforced in a few colleges in the Southern state of Karnataka in India.

Students of Kolkata's Aliah University protesting against the Hijab ban enforced in a few colleges in the Southern state of Karnataka in India.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

👋 Bonjou!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Libya’s prime minister survives an assassination attempt, Belarus and Russia start joint military drills and a Republican congresswoman spills her gazpacho. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re also looking at the world of private jet travel, a means of transportation that soared during the pandemic.

[*Haitian Creole]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Russia military drills with Belarus: Belarus and Russia started ten days of joint military drills on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the Kremlin’s buildup of forces along Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has said the aim of the exercises is to “practice suppressing and repelling external aggression.” Around 3,000 Russian troops are believed to be in Belarus, which according to NATO marks the biggest Russian deployment to the ex-Soviet territory since the Cold War. On a visit to NATO’s headquarters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the Ukraine crisis has entered its “most dangerous moment” as the threat of a war looms.

COVID update: The U.S. plans to begin the distribution of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5, as early as Feb. 21, according to the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. Paris banned a French “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions from entering the capital city. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Jonhson outlined plans to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England within weeks, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.

Libyan Prime Minister survives assassination attempt: Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt in Tripoli, after gunmen fired on his car as we was returning home early Thursday. The attack came amid intense rival factions over control of the government.

Church sex abuse panel in Portugal reports first 200+ cases: A lay committee investigating historic child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced it had received allegations from 214 people throughout its first month of work.

Olympics drug controversy: The 15-year-old Russian superstar figure skater Kamila Valieva has turned up for training as usual Thursday morning at the Winter Olympics, despite having tested positive for a banned substance. The International Olympic Committee had announced that the medal ceremony for the figure skating event had been suspended. Meanwhile, Austrian Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team to winning the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined event on Thursday, following in his father’s footsteps.

Space storm destroys 40 of Space X’s Starlink satellites: Elon Musk's company SpaceX confirmed that a solar storm had destroyed most of the Starlink satellites it launched last Friday, with 40 of its 49 satellites expected to fall back to earth.

Pro Trump representative confuses the Gestapo with gazpacho soup: Controversial Republican U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday as she accused Democratic leaders of “gazpacho” tactics on Capitol Hill. She apparently confused Hitler’s secret police with the popular Spanish cold tomato soup …

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Canadian daily Ottawa Citizen devotes its front page to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Ottawa’s city center for more than a week. What started as demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The leader is demanding an end to the protests, which have forced some factories to shut down due to the blockade of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge on the border.

💬  LEXICON

마늘 소녀들

The South Korean curling team known as the “Garlic Girls” (마늘 소녀들, maneul sonyeodeul), a nod to the iconic produce of their region, starts competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics today in a round-robin match against Canada. The team had gained fame with its first Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, before prompting debates about the mistreatment of athletes in South Korea, when its members denounced their coaches’ harsh training and abuse nine months later.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How the pandemic spread private jet travel beyond the super-rich and powerful

Once the reserve of the super-rich and famous, private jet travel soared during the pandemic. Amid border closures and travel restrictions, private charter flights are sometimes the only option to get people — and their pets!? — home.

✈️ During the pandemic, a surprisingly wide demographic have turned to private jets not because it was a luxury they could afford, but out of desperation, trying to reach a destination in the face of border closures and widespread flight cancellations. Last year, private jet hours were close to 50% higher than in 2020, according to the Global Business Aviation Outlook. While some of the increase can be attributed to more travel in 2021 because of COVID-19 vaccination, it still amounts to 5% more hours than before the pandemic.

🐶 More than just saving time through skipping security lines and long waits at airports, flying private jets also lets the super wealthy, and those desperate enough to break the bank, sidestep other regulations. As part of its zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has severely limited flights. High cargo rates for animals and flight cancellations are making it very hard for pet owners to leave the island taking their furry friends along. Those desperate enough are spending upwards of $25,665 to privately charter themselves and their pets. Many are pooling their resources to share in the cost.

🧳 In Morocco, private jets were the only way for many to enter the North African kingdom after it suspended all air travel from Nov. 29 until Feb. 7 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 6,000 Moroccans were stuck abroad. In this case, many weren’t looking for a luxurious travel experience but were just desperate to return to their home country. Traveling in groups was one way to decrease the expense, to as low as $1,400 per passenger for a flight from Europe, but for some this still means relying on family support or finding other ways to raise money.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

“I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't hurt anyone. Not even a scratch.”

— Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the ISIS cell that targeted Paris in the 2015 attacks, has denied killing or hurting anybody during the trial of the attacks that left 130 people dead. Adbeslam said he supported the Islamic State of Iraq but chose at the last minute not to detonate his explosives, though prosecutors believe his suicide belt malfunctioned. The French-Moroccan is the only defendant, among 20, to be directly accused of murder and hostage taking.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$4.3 million

The Enigma, a 555.55 carat black gem believed to be the world's largest cut diamond, has sold for $4.3 million in an online auction. The gem, known as a “carbonado,” is an extremely rare billion-year-old black diamond which contain osbonite, a mineral found only in meteors — meaning it could originate from space.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Garlic curling and gazpacho on the menu? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!

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Ideas

Artificial Satellite Pollution, Perils For Biodiversity In Space And On Earth

Exploiting space resources and littering it with satellite and other anthropogenic objects is endangering the ecosystem of space, which also damages the earth and its creatures below.

Image of the small satellite NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite deployed into space by the ISS

Thomas Lewton

Outer space isn’t what most people would think of as an ecosystem. Its barren and frigid void isn’t exactly akin to the verdant canopies of a rainforest or to the iridescent shoals that swim among coral cities. But if we are to become better stewards of the increasingly frenzied band of orbital space above our atmosphere, a shift to thinking of it as an ecosystem — as part of an interconnected system of living things interacting with their physical environment — may be just what we need.

Last month, in the journal Nature Astronomy, a collective of 11 astrophysicists and space scientists proposed we do just that, citing the proliferation of anthropogenic space objects. Thousands of satellites currently orbit the Earth, with commercial internet providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink launching new ones at a dizzying pace. Based on proposals for projects in the future, the authors note, the number could reach more than a hundred thousand within the decade. Artificial satellites, long a vital part of the space ecosystem, have arguably become an invasive species.


The band of orbital space just above our atmosphere is becoming so densely populated with satellites that it may threaten the practice of astronomy. Whereas the main source of light interference used to be the cities below, it is now increasingly the satellites above. These artificial stars can be a billion times brighter than the objects astronomers hope to study, and they emit radio waves that can interfere with telescopes. By some estimates, around one in twenty images from the Hubble Telescope are affected by the streaks of passing satellites. By 2030, the authors say, a third of Hubble’s images could be impacted.

A clear night sky for basic survival

Yet the choice by the authors of the Nature Astronomy paper to call the orbital space around Earth an ecosystem reflects the fact that it’s not just astronomers who are affected by the recent infiltration of the night sky. Rather, the cluttering of orbital space is impacting the wellbeing of creatures both above the skies and below.

To begin with, there are the handful of astronauts at any given moment who call low-Earth orbit home — and the plants, worms, and tardigrades that have been their playthings on the International Space Station. Space junk created by the rare but inevitable collisions between satellites -- which can travel faster than bullet speed -- is becoming a threat to that life. Last year, a 5-millimeter hole was punctured in the International Space Station’s robotic arm by debris of unknown origin.

The cluttering of orbital space is impacting the wellbeing of creatures both above the skies and below.

But clutter in low-Earth orbit also threatens ways of life for entire communities of people here on the ground. The traditions and cosmologies of many Indigenous peoples, for example, are rooted in the movements of the stars. Polynesian sailors’ feats of navigation by starlight are unparalleled.

The Palikur people of the Amazon see constellations as boats driven by shamans that bring rain and seasonal fish. The recent deluge of light pollution in our night skies is more than a headache to these and other Indigenous peoples, whose cosmologies may wither if the numbers of satellites aren’t kept in check. New artificial mega constellations could mask those that have been relied on for millennia. (This issue may provide rare common ground between Indigenous peoples and professional astronomers, the latter of whom have historically been aligned with colonialism and courted controversy with the construction of new telescopes on sacred Indigenous lands.)

For many non-human animals, evidence suggests that a clear night sky might be a basic survival need. The hazy stripe of the Milky Way is used by dung beetles to navigate back to their burrows. Migratory birds, harbor seals, and some species of moths all use the movement of the stars as a compass too. Who knows how many other creatures might depend on a clear view of the night sky?

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station\u200b

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Space traffic footprint

To protect the space ecosystem, we should treat it the way many aspire to treat our atmosphere and our oceans: as a global commons, a resource that lies beyond national, corporate, or individual ownership. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty took steps toward this ideal by recognizing that all nations have an equal interest in the exploration and use of outer space. Yet even that treaty establishes space as a resource humans can use for our own benefit. That’s like defining an ecosystem in terms of the natural capital it offers to humans, rather than recognizing the protection of habitats and biodiversity as an intrinsic good.

We shouldn’t see low Earth orbit as the next frontier of capitalist extraction.

More apt would be to emphasize not the potential benefits that space provides to humans but rather the potential threats that humans pose to orbital space. In this view, overuse of the global commons by any one actor imposes a shared expense on us all. In our management of Antarctica, for example, preservation goes hand in hand with human activity on the continent. In this light, we shouldn’t see low Earth orbit as the next frontier of capitalist extraction, but rather as an ecosystem to be protected — one that, like other ecosystems, has limits and tipping points beyond which there is no return.

Some groups have started to open up conversations and build initiatives to this effect. The authors of the Nature Astronomy paper, for example, propose a “space traffic footprint” akin to a carbon footprint. And in February, the International Astronomical Union launched the Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference.

The center, which will be co-hosted by the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab and the Square Kilometer Array Observatory, aims to act as a hub of information and advocacy, bringing together stakeholders such as astronomers, ecologists, and Indigenous peoples alike. While much remains to be done, the issue is one of perspective as much as policy. It will take a shared commitment to the value of a clear night sky, and collaboration across diverse communities, to preserve orbital space for generations to come.

Unlike other ecosystems, the near-barrenness of the band of space just beyond our atmosphere is precisely what makes it unique and valuable. Preserving this transparent window grants us all access to what lies beyond.

Thomas Lewton is a science journalist who writes about astrophysics and the environment.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

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