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Sony to build space lasers with new satellite services unit

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(Last Updated On: June 3, 2022)

Sony on Thursday said it formed a new company that will build and supply devices that allow small satellites in orbit to communicate with one another via laser beams, dipping into the fast-growing space sector.

Sony Space Communications Corp, registered on Wednesday, is meant to take advantage of laser technology to avoid a bottleneck of radio frequencies. The devices will work between satellites in space and satellites communicating with ground stations.

The company did not say when it expects to have its first commercial device operating in space, whether it has existing customers lined up or how much money it has invested into the technology to date.

There are roughly 12,000 satellites in orbit, a number that is projected to increase rapidly in the coming years as rocket companies slash the cost of launching things to space, and as firms like Amazon and SpaceX build vast networks of low-earth satellites to carry internet communications to all the globe.

“The amount of data used in orbit is also increasing year by year, but the amount of available radio waves is limited,” the new company’s president, Kyohei Iwamoto, said in a statement.

SpaceX makes its own laser communications devices in-house and first launched them on its Starlink satellites late last year.

Sony said one of its first successful tests occurred in 2020 when it transmitted high-definition image data by laser from the International Space Station to a ground station in Japan.

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Satellite imagery shows Antarctic ice shelf crumbling faster than thought

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2022)

Antarctica’s coastal glaciers are shedding icebergs more rapidly than nature can replenish the crumbling ice, doubling previous estimates of losses from the world’s largest ice sheet over the past 25 years, a satellite analysis showed on Wednesday.

The first-of-its-kind study, led by researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles and published in the journal Nature, raises new concern about how fast climate change is weakening Antarctica’s floating ice shelves and accelerating the rise of global sea levels, Reuters reported.

The study’s key finding was that the net loss of Antarctic ice from coastal glacier chunks “calving” off into the ocean is nearly as great as the net amount of ice that scientists already knew was being lost due to thinning caused by the melting of ice shelves from below by warming seas.

Taken together, thinning and calving have reduced the mass of Antarctica’s ice shelves by 12 trillion tons since 1997, double the previous estimate, the analysis concluded.

The net loss of the continent’s ice sheet from calving alone in the past quarter-century spans nearly 37,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Switzerland, according to JPL scientist Chad Greene, the study’s lead author.

“Antarctica is crumbling at its edges,” Greene said in a NASA announcement of the findings. “And when ice shelves dwindle and weaken, the continent’s massive glaciers tend to speed up and increase the rate of global sea level rise.”

The consequences could be enormous. Antarctica holds 88% of the sea level potential of all the world’s ice, he said.

Ice shelves, permanent floating sheets of frozen freshwater attached to land, take thousands of years to form and act like buttresses holding back glaciers that would otherwise easily slide off into the ocean, causing seas to rise.

When ice shelves are stable, the long-term natural cycle of calving and re-growth keeps their size fairly constant.

In recent decades, though, warming oceans have weakened the shelves from underneath, a phenomenon previously documented by satellite altimeters measuring the changing height of the ice and showing losses averaging 149 million tons a year from 2002 to 2020, according to NASA.

The losses measured from calving outpaced natural ice shelf replenishment so greatly that researchers found it unlikely Antarctica can return to pre-2000 glacier levels by the end of this century.

The accelerated glacial calving, like ice thinning, was most pronounced in West Antarctica, an area hit harder by warming ocean currents. But even in East Antarctica, a region whose ice shelves were long considered less vulnerable, “we’re seeing more losses than gains,” Greene said.

One East Antarctic calving event that took the world by surprise was the collapse and disintegration of the massive Conger-Glenzer ice shelf in March, possibly a sign of greater weakening to come, Greene said.

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WhatsApp unveils new privacy features to boost user security

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2022)

WhatsApp is to allow users to leave group chats without notifying others and control who can see when they are online as part of a privacy update to the messaging app.

As part of the update, which is rolling out this month, users will also be given the ability to block people from taking screenshots of View Once messages, which are designed to disappear after being opened.

The screenshot blocking tool is currently being tested, WhatsApp said, and would be released to users soon.

The Meta-owned messaging platform said the new features aimed to keep improving the privacy around online conversations.

In a post announcing the WhatsApp update, Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg said: “We’ll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversations.”

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Beluga whale caught in France’s Seine not accepting food

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2022)

French environmentalists are working around the clock to try to feed a dangerously thin Beluga whale that has strayed into the Seine River. 

So far, they have been unsuccessful, AP reported.

Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France tweeted Saturday that “our teams took turns with the Beluga all night long. It always ignores the fish offered to him.”

The lost Beluga was first seen in France’s river, far from its Arctic habitat, earlier this week. Drone footage subsequently shot by French fire services showed the whale gently meandering in a stretch of the river’s light green waters between Paris and the Normandy city of Rouen, many dozens of kilometers inland from the sea.

Conservationists have tried since Friday to feed a catch of herring to the ethereal white mammal. Calling it “a race against the clock,” Sea Shepherd fears the whale is slowly starving in the waterway and could die.

Authorities in the l’Eure region said in a Friday night statement that the wild animal has a “fleeing behavior vis-a-vis the boats” and has not responded to attempts to guide it to safer waters.

The people trying to help the whale are being as unobtrusive as possible to “avoid stress that could aggravate his state of health,” according to the statement.

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