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2,500 dead seals found on Russia’s Caspian coast

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2022)

About 2,500 seals have been found dead on the Caspian Sea coast in southern Russia, said the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Republic of Dagestan on Sunday.

Authorities in the Russian province of Dagestan said it was unclear why the mass die-off happened but that it was likely due to natural causes.

Regional officials initially reported Saturday that 700 dead seals were found on the coast, but the ministry later raised the figure to about 2,500, AP reported.

Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said in a statement that the seals likely died a couple of weeks ago. He added that there was no sign that they were killed or caught in fishing nets.

Experts of the Federal Fisheries Agency and prosecutors inspected the coastline and collected data for laboratory research, which didn’t immediately spot any pollutants.

Several previous incidents of mass seal deaths were attributed to natural causes. Kazakhstan, which has a long Caspian coastline, reported at least three such incidents this year.

Data about the number of seals in the Caspian vary widely. The fisheries agency has said the overall number of Caspian seals is 270,000 to 300,000, while the Caspian Environmental Protection Center put the number at 70,000.

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Camera captures night sky spiral after SpaceX rocket launch

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2023)

A camera atop Hawaii’s tallest mountain has captured what looks like a spiral swirling through the night sky.

Researchers believe it was from the launch of a military GPS satellite that lifted off earlier on a SpaceX rocket in Florida, AP reported.

The images were captured on Jan. 18 by a camera at the summit of Mauna Kea outside the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru telescope.

A time-lapse video shows a white orb spreading out and forming a spiral as it moves across the sky. It then fades and disappears.

Ichi Tanaka, a researcher at the Subaru telescope, said he was doing other work that night and didn’t immediately see it. Then a stargazer watching the camera’s livestream on YouTube sent him a screenshot of the spiral using an online messaging platform.

“When I opened Slack, that is what I saw and it was a jaw-dropping event for me,” Tanaka said.

He saw a similar spiral last April, also after a SpaceX launch, but that one was larger and more faint.

SpaceX launched a military satellite the morning of Jan. 18 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The location of the spiral matched where the second stage of the SpaceX rocket was expected to be after its launch.

SpaceX didn’t respond to an email sent Friday seeking comment.

Tanaka said the observatory installed the camera to monitor the surroundings outside the Subaru telescope and to share Mauna Kea’s clear skies with the people of Hawaii and the world.

Someone watching the sky in less clear conditions, for example from Tokyo, might not have seen the spiral, he said.

The livestream is jointly operated with the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, and frequently gets hundreds of viewers. Some tune in to watch meteors streak across the sky.

The summit of Mauna Kea has some of best viewing conditions on Earth for astronomy, making it a favored spot for the world’s most advanced observatories. The summit is also considered sacred by many Native Hawaiians who view it as a place where the gods dwell.

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Japan launches intel satellite to watch N. Korea, disasters

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2023)

Japan successfully launched a rocket Thursday carrying a government intelligence-gathering satellite on a mission to watch movements at military sites in North Korea and improve natural disaster response.

The H2A rocket, launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., successfully lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, carrying the IGS-Radar 7 reconnaissance satellite as part of Tokyo’s effort to build up its military capability, citing growing threats in the East Asia, The Associated Press reported. 

The satellite later successfully entered its planned orbit, Mitsubishi Heavy said.

The Intelligence Gathering Satellite can capture images on the ground 24 hours a day and even in severe weather conditions. Japan launched the IGS program after a North Korean missile flyover of Japan in 1988 and aims to set up a network of 10 satellites to spot and provide early warning for possible missile launches. The satellites can be also used for disaster monitoring and response.

“The government will maximize the use of IGS-Radar 7 and other reconnaissance satellites to do the utmost for Japan’s national security and crisis management,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement Thursday as he praised the successful launch.

Kishida’s government in December adopted a new national security strategy, including possessing long-range cruise missiles as a “counterstrike” capability that breaks from the country’s exclusively self-defense-only postwar principle, citing rapid weapons advancement in China and North Korea.

Possible counterstrikes that aim to preempt enemy attacks would require significant advancement in intelligence gathering and cybersecurity capability, as well as significant assistance from Japan’s ally, the United States, experts say.

The Mitsubishi Heavy-operated, liquid-fuel H2A rocket has recorded 40 consecutive successes since a failure in 2003.

Mitsubishi Heavy and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are co-developing their new flagship H3 rocket as the successor to the H2A, which is set to retire in 2024. The first launch of H3 is set for February.

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Asteroid coming exceedingly close to Earth, but will miss us

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(Last Updated On: January 26, 2023)

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.

NASA insists it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth, The Associated Press reported.

NASA said Wednesday that this newly discovered asteroid will zoom 3,600 kilometers above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.

The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. EST (3:34 p.m Kabul time).

Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.

NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“But despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement. “In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be between 3.5 meters and 8.5 meters) across. It was first spotted by the same amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennady Borisov, who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019. Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.

The asteroid’s path drastically will be altered by Earth’s gravity once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, it will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

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