Elon Musk to offer $100m prize for ‘best’ tech to capture carbon dioxide emissions

Tesla Inc chief and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Thursday took to Twitter to promise a $100 million prize for development of the “best” technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Capturing planet-warming emissions is becoming a critical part of many plans to keep climate change in check, but very little progress has been made on the technology to date, with efforts focused on cutting emissions rather than taking carbon out of the air.

The International Energy Agency said late last year that a sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture technology was needed if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets.

“Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” Musk wrote in a tweet, followed by a second tweet that promised “Details next week.”

Tesla officials did not immediately respond to a request for additional information.

Musk, who co-founded and sold Internet payments company PayPal Holdings Inc, now leads some of the most futuristic companies in the world.

Besides Tesla, he heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

Newly-sworn-in US President Joe Biden has pledged to accelerate the development of carbon capture technology as part of his sweeping plan to tackle climate change. On Thursday, he named Jennifer Wilcox, an expert in carbon removal technologies, as the principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy at the US Department of Energy.


Bangladesh to get its first space observatory in Faridpur

The government is all set to build the “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Space Observatory Centre”, the first of its kind in the country, at Bhanga Upazila of Faridpur. The centre is being set up with all modern facilities for observing the space with telescopes at a cost of Tk 213 crores. The project is expected to get approval from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on January 19.

Eminent writer Professor Zafar Iqbal first brought the idea of setting up a space observatory centre at Bhanga of Faridpur to public attention. He explained that the Equator, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricon – three imaginary lines that encircle the Earth from East to West – has an intersection point with the four longitudinal lines that encircle the Earth from North to South at Bhanga Upazila of Faridpur, making the spot an ideal location to set up a space observatory. 

Following his suggestion, the Prime Minister directed the Ministry of Science and Technology to start preparing the project. 

According to the project proposal, the centre will be built on 10 acres of land and will have a 5-storey circular building that will house reflector telescopes. The height of the observatory tower will be kept at 100 metres to commemorate the birth centenary of the father of the nation. 

The project proposal also allots Tk 1 crore 10 lacs for the travel and training of 11 officials abroad. 

The project is scheduled for completion by June 2023.


Climate change devastated dinosaurs not once, but twice

Most people know that land-dwelling dinosaurs were wiped out some 66 million years ago when an asteroid roughly twice the diameter of Paris crashed into Earth. If the explosive fireball didn’t get them, the plunge in global temperature on a planet with little or no ice — caused by a blanket of heat-shielding debris in the atmosphere — did.

What most people don’t know is that more than 100 million years earlier, another climate change cataclysm devastated a different set of dinosaur species, with many going extinct. Except for this time, it was global warming rather than global cooling that did them in, with the planet heating up more quickly than the dinos’ capacity to adapt.

Scientists have found evidence of this traumatic event some 179 million years ago in plant fossils in Argentine Patagonia. They also discovered a previously unknown dinosaur. The species, called Bagualia alba, is in the family of massive, long-necked sauropods, the largest animals to walk the Earth. Before the global warming event, sauropods were only one branch of the Sauropodomorpha lineage.

Other dinosaurs in the same group were smaller and lightly built, with some no bigger than a goat, according to a study published Wednesday in the Royal Society. But a series of volcanic eruptions over several million years released huge amounts of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere, warming the planet and transforming the vegetation dinosaurs fed on. The climate went from a temperate, warm and humid with diverse lush vegetation to a strongly seasonal, hot-and-dry regime.

Smaller Sauropodomorpha dinosaurs were unable to cope with the change, but larger sauropods — like the Bagualia alba — thrived. “Sauropods are massive, four-legged animals with long necks,” which meant they could reach the tops of trees, palaeontologist and lead author Diego Pol told AFP. “Their very robust mandibles and spoon-shaped teeth were adapted to feed on all kinds of plants such as conifer trees. “Conifers in the early Jurassic had tough and leathery leaves that would be a challenge for any herbivore. But that gave B. alba an advantage over other Sauropodomorpha dinosaurs, said Pol, head of the science department at the Egidio Feruglio palaeontology museum in Patagonia.

Sauropods’ new diet saw them expanded in size from 10 metres to 40 metres in length, as large digestion chambers were needed to cope. They became the dominant group of herbivores and eventually the largest animals to ever walk the Earth.


Arecibo telescope, star of the astronomy world, to be decommissioned

The renowned Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico will be dismantled after 57 years of service due to the rupture of cables that have led to the threat of collapse, the US National Science Foundation announced Thursday. Two cables supporting the 900-ton instruments for the telescope above a radio dish 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter broke on August 10 and November 6.

Engineers are concerned other cables could also break at any time, making any attempt at repair excessively dangerous. The telescope is one of the largest in the world and has been a tool for many astronomical discoveries.

The foundation “prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like. Using the hashtag  “WhatAreciboMeansToMe”, messages of sadness at the news spread on Twitter from both professional and amateur astronomers who have used the telescope for their work in observing the cosmos for decades. “More than a telescope, Arecibo is the reason I am even in astronomy,” local astronomer Kevin Ortiz Ceballos wrote on Twitter.

Karen Masters, an astrophysics professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, posted a photo of herself and her baby daughter near the radio dish in 2008 and said she was  “heartbroken and disappointed.”

An action scene from the James Bond film  “GoldenEye” takes place above the telescope, and in the film “Contact” an astronomer played by Jodie Foster uses the observatory in her quest for alien signals. The engineering company that examined the structure concluded that the remaining cables were possibly weaker than expected and recommended controlled demolition, which the foundation accepted.


SpaceX launches four astronauts to ISS on Sunday

Four astronauts were poised to launch on the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” to the International Space Station on Sunday, the first of what the US hopes will be many routine missions following a successful test flight in late spring. Three Americans — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker — and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will blast off at 7:27 pm Sunday (0027 GMT Monday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In May, SpaceX completed a demonstration mission showing it could take astronauts to the ISS and bring them back safely, thus ending almost a decade of reliance on Russia for rides on its Soyuz rockets. “The history being made this time is we’re launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters Friday. The launch will be attended by Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence.

The crew will dock at their destination at around 11:00 pm Monday night (0400 GMT Tuesday), joining two Russians and one American on board the station, and stay for six months. The Crew Dragon earlier this week became the first spacecraft to be certified by NASA since the Space Shuttle nearly 40 years ago. It is a capsule, similar in shape to the spacecraft which preceded Space Shuttle, and its launch vehicle is a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. At the end of its missions, the Crew Dragon deploys parachutes then splashes down in the water, just as in the Apollo era.

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing after shuttering the checkered Space Shuttle program in 2011, which failed in its main objectives of making space travel affordable and safe. The agency will have spent more than $8 billion on the Commercial Crew program by 2024, with the hope that the private sector can take care of NASA’s needs in  “low Earth orbit” so it is freed up to focus on return missions to the Moon and then on to Mars.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has leapfrogged its much older rival Boeing, whose program has floundered after a failed test of its uncrewed Starliner last year. But SpaceX’s success won’t mean the US will stop hitching rides with Russia altogether, said Bridenstine. “We want to have an exchange of seats where American astronauts can fly on Russian Soyuz rockets and Russian cosmonauts can fly on commercial crew vehicles,” he said, explaining it was necessary in case either program was down for a period of time.

The reality, however, is that space ties between the US and Russia, one of the few bright spots in their bilateral relations, have frayed in recent years, and much remains uncertain. Russia has said it won’t be a partner in the Artemis program to return to the Moon in 2024, claiming the NASA-led mission is too US-centric. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency has also repeatedly mocked SpaceX’s technology, and this summer announced Roscosmos would build rockets that surpass Musk’s. He told a state news agency he was unimpressed with the Crew Dragon’s water landing, calling it  “rather rough” and saying his agency was developing a methane rocket that will be reusable 100 times. But the fact that a national space agency feels moved to compare itself to a company is arguably a validation of NASA’s public-private strategy.

SpaceX’s emergence has also deprived the Roscosmos of a valuable income stream. The cost of round-trips on Russian rockets had been rising and stood at around $85 million per astronaut, according to estimates last year.

Presidential transition

Presidential transitions are always a difficult time for NASA, and the ascension of Joe Biden in January is expected to be no different. The agency has yet to receive from Congress the tens of billions of dollars needed to finalize the Artemis program. Bridenstine has announced that he will step down, in order to let the new president set his own goals for space exploration.

So far, Biden has not commented on the 2024 timeline. Democratic party documents say they support NASA’s Moon and Mars aspirations, but also emphasize elevating the agency’s Earth sciences division to better understand how climate change is affecting our planet. 


JU’s Prof Dr AA Mamun among world’s top 2 percent most-cited scientists

Dr AA Mamun, a renowned professor of Physics department at Jahangirnagar University, has been selected among the top two percent of the most cited scientists in the world in a journal published by Stanford University based researchers in the US.

Stanford University professor John Ioannidis — a specialist in metascience, or the study of science using scientific methods — worked alongside US-based Kevin W Boyack and the Netherlands-based Jeroen Baas to release the exhaustive list of 1,59,683 scientists in various disciplines.

Each scientist was assigned a weight based on the number of citations of their own research work.

Dr Mamun is among the foremost scientists in the country, with a total 417 publications in prominent research journals across the globe, and has over 12,000 citations, according to a JU press release.

His research interests include the fields of plasma physics, quantum physics, and medical physics.

For his contribution in physics, Dr Mamun was selected as a fellow of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences in 2019.

He won the Fredric William Basel Research Award from Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation in Germany for his outstanding contribution to physics in 2009, becoming the first scientist to win the prestigious research award.

Dr Mamun earned his PhD from St Andrew’s University in the UK with a Commonwealth Scholarship, and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Humboldt University in Germany.

JU Vice-Chancellor Dr Farzana Islam has congratulated Dr Mamun for his remarkable achievement and wished him success in his future endeavours.


Make Science Great Again: US researchers dream of life after Trump

From his lab in Toulouse, France, Benjamin Sanderson models the range of extreme risks to humans from climate change, research he hopes can inform policymakers planning for worsening wildfires and floods. It is the kind of work he once performed in the United States – and hopes to again soon.

Sanderson is among dozens of US-based climate scientists who shifted their research to France, or sought refuge in academia or in left-leaning states like California after Republican Donald Trump was elected in 2016. They worried his administration’s distrust of science would impact their ability to finance and advance their work.

Now, with the presidential election looming – and Democrat Joe Biden ahead in the polls and promising to prioritise the role of science in policymaking – some of these researchers hope for a return to the days when the United States was viewed as the best place on earth to do their jobs.

Climate science in Europe is not treated as a “political topic,” Sanderson said, adding that he would consider returning to the United States under an administration that valued scientific input.

In the United States, the role of scientific research in public policy is clearly on the ballot in the November 3 presidential election.

Some Republicans have sought to undermine the research showing human-caused climate change since long before Trump was elected in 2016, but the sidelining of science-based recommendations in policy decisions has only accelerated since.

Against the advice of researchers, Trump announced plans in 2017 to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, an international accord to fight global warming. He argued the pact would devastate the economy without providing much environmental benefit. His administration has since rolled back more than 100 environmental protections it deemed burdensome to industry, including those seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed industry insiders or climate change doubters to key roles overseeing environmental regulation and cut scientific advisory committees at federal agencies.

The politicisation of science has come into sharper focus this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, as Trump has ridiculed and ignored many research findings and recommendations from the administration’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration has made a habit of “ignoring, sidelining and censoring” scientific researchers, according to an August statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit that advocates for scientific approaches to social and environmental problems.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spokeswoman Jordan Hunter did not comment on the departure of scientists under Trump or on the administration’s handling of research on climate change and the pandemic. She said the administration was “committed to ensuring the next great scientific breakthroughs happen in America,” such as artificial intelligence and space exploration.

Biden, by contrast, has promised to fight climate change and to use scientific research and advice to tackle the pandemic. His transition team is already seeking input from informal advisors on how to rebuild and expand US research, the Biden campaign said.

“Science will be at the heart of a possible Biden-Harris administration,” said transition spokesperson Cameron French.

The candidates’ contrasting takes on the value of science may be best summed up by Trump himself, who said at an October 18 rally in Carson City, Nevada: “If you vote for Biden, he’ll listen to the scientists. If I listened to scientists, we’d have a country in a massive depression instead of – we’re like a rocket ship.”

Biden replied the next day over Twitter: “For once, Donald Trump is correct: I will listen to scientists.”


In December 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron offered alarmed US climate scientists multi-year grants to relocate and conduct climate research in France under his “Make Our Planet Great Again” programme – a jab at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The program came in response to Trump’s decision to begin withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement. At least 32 scientists from across the globe took Macron’s offer, according to the French government. About 18 of them had been working at US-based institutions before they moved some or all of their research to France.

Sanderson had previously worked on projections for extreme weather related to climate change at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. He moved to the French city of Toulouse, he said, to escape the politics that has engulfed US climate science. He works primarily in the hope of informing policy, an endeavor that “was no longer relevant under the Trump administration,” he said.

Another scientist who went to France is Philip Schulz, a former post-doctoral researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Now he studies organic electronics and solar energy in Paris under the French program.

He cited the Trump administration’s climate skepticism as driving his change of job and country. “I work in a field that is trying to combat climate change and enable an energy transition,” Schulz said.


While some US scientists took up Macron’s call to work in France, others fled jobs with the federal government for positions in academia or for left-leaning state governments such as California, which tried to recruit disgruntled researchers.

“I feel they’re like Russian dissidents during the USSR,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California’s Secretary for Environmental Protection, who ran the federal EPA’s Pacific Southwest region from 2010 to 2016. “They’ve been in exile in California.”

Blumenfeld said it will take decades to rebuild science from an onslaught of politics and superstition he believes began under the administration of Republican George W Bush. He said California will not begrudge researchers who return to federal government jobs if Trump loses the election.

“If they want to go back and continue to work and build up these battered institutions, Godspeed,” he said. “We’ve been here to take them in from the storm.”

Other US government scientists and experts have found refuge in academia.

Joel Clement, a former director of the office of policy analysis at the US Interior Department, left government in 2017 after being transferred from a position focused on climate change in the Arctic to the department’s office of revenue. He now does research and teaches at the John F Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard University.

“Any administration is going to have a long road to get this back on track,” said Clement, who has been involved in conversations about restoring US science with other experts informally advising the Biden team.

Dr Ruth Etzel, EPA’s former head of children’s health, is still working at the agency, though she says she has been sidelined from her specialty under Trump.

A pediatrician with a focus on epidemiology and preventative medicine, Etzel was placed on administrative leave in 2018 after advocating more aggressive measures to prevent lead poisoning. She now works as a senior advisor in the office of water.

“I don’t have meaningful responsibility in office of water,” Etzel said. She said she hopes a new administration would let her share her expertise.

The EPA declined to comment.

The Biden campaign hopes scientists who left come back to work for the federal government.

A campaign working group has been tossing around ideas for restoring scientific integrity on Zoom calls, including possibly creating a White House office focused on climate change, setting up nonpartisan oversight of federal scientific agencies, re-appointing scientific advisory panels and recruiting young scientists to federal jobs, according to advisers who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Such changes would be very welcome, said climate scientist Venkatramani Balaji, who is working as a laureate in the French “Make Our Planet Great Again” programme, but kept his affiliation with Princeton University in the United States.

“At some point, science is going to be invited back to the table,” Balaji said. “As a community, we need to be ready for when that happens.”


On the moon, water water everywhere and not a drop to drink (yet)

The moon lacks the bodies of liquid water that are a hallmark of Earth but scientists said on Monday lunar water is more widespread than previously known, with water molecules trapped within mineral grains on the surface and more water perhaps hidden in ice patches residing in permanent shadows.

While research 11 years ago indicated water was relatively widespread in small amounts on the moon, a team of scientists is now reporting the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface. At the same time, another team is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of permanent shadows that potentially could harbor hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilize water for purposes such as a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses or between debris grains. Previous observations have suffered from ambiguity between water and its molecular cousin hydroxyl, but the new detection used a method that yielded unambiguous findings.

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be embedded within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and foreboding environment. The researchers used data from the SOFIA airborne observatory, a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope.

“A lot of people think that the detection I’ve made is water ice, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules – because they’re so spread out they don’t interact with each other to form water ice or even liquid water,” Honniball said.

The second study, also published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused upon so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perpetual darkness where temperatures are below about negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 163 degrees Celsius). That is cold enough that frozen water can remain stable for billions of years.

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers led by planetary scientist Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder detected what may be tens of billions of small shadows, many no bigger than a small coin. Most are located in the polar regions.

“Our research shows that a multitude of previously unknown regions of the moon could harbor water ice,” Hayne said. “Our results suggest that water could be much more widespread in the moon’s polar regions than previously thought, making it easier to access, extract and analyze.”

NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned as paving the way for a later journey carrying a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavors.

“Water is not just constrained to the polar region. It’s more spread out than we thought it was,” Honniball said.


Rooppur Power Plant: Unloading of key machines begins at Mongla Port

Authorities started unloading a nuclear reactor and a steam generator — key components of the first unit of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant — at jetty number 9 of Mongla Port in Bagerhat today.


Telescopes capture supermassive black hole devouring star

Astronomers have captured the moment a supermassive black hole shredded a star the size of our Sun, releasing images Monday showing the devastating process in unprecedented detail. Using telescopes from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), they were able to monitor light flaring from the process — known as a tidal disruption event — from a black hole just over 215 million light-years from Earth.