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South Korea prepares for second space rocket attempt

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(Last Updated On: June 21, 2022)

South Korea is set for a second test launch of its domestically produced Nuri space rocket on Tuesday, eight months after the first test successfully blasted off but failed to place a dummy satellite in orbit.

On Monday, the rocket was erected on its launch pad at the Naro Space Center on the southern coast of South Korea. The test had been scheduled for last week, but was scrubbed in the hours before launch because of a problem with an oxidizer tank sensor.

Officials will decide Tuesday afternoon whether to proceed.

The three-stage KSLV-II Nuri rocket, designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to eventually put 1.5-ton payloads into orbit 600 to 800 km above the Earth, is a cornerstone of the country’s plans to jumpstart its space programme and achieve ambitious goals in 6G networks, spy satellites, and even lunar probes.

It uses only Korean rocket technologies, and is the country’s first domestically built space launch vehicle. South Korea’s last booster, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.

Nuri is key to South Korean plans to eventually build a Korean satellite-based navigation system and a 6G communications network. The country also plans to launch a range of military satellites, but officials deny that the Nuri has any use as a weapon.

South Korea is also working with the United States on a lunar orbiter, and hopes to land a probe on the moon by 2030.

Space launches have long been a sensitive issue on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea faces sanctions over its nuclear-armed ballistic missile programme.

In March, South Korea’s military separately oversaw what it said was its first successful launch of a solid-fuel space-launch rocket, another part of its plans to launch spy satellites.

In Nuri’s first test in October, the rocket completed its flight sequences but failed to place the test payload into orbit after its third-stage engine burned out earlier than planned.

Engineers adjusted the helium tank inside Nuri’s third-stage oxidizer tank to address that problem, Yonhap news agency reported.

The stakes will be higher in Tuesday’s test, as in addition to a dummy satellite, Nuri will carry a rocket performance verification satellite and four cube satellites developed by universities for research.

KARI has said it plans to conduct at least four more test launches by 2027.

Science & Technology

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

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(Last Updated On: June 26, 2022)

While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures, phys.org reported Sunday.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French non-governmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area, phys.org reported.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby, phys.org reported.

Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

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Burmese python weighing almost 100kg caught in Florida

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(Last Updated On: June 24, 2022)

The largest Burmese python ever seen in Florida was caught by researchers who used another python to lure it out of its hiding place in the Everglades, National Geographic reported this week.

The gargantuan snake was a female, measuring nearly 5.4 meters long and weighing 97 kilograms, 13.6 kg more than the next-largest python ever found in the state.

Most Burmese pythons that are found in Florida range between 1.8 and 3 m long, although in their native habitats in Southeast Asia, the snakes commonly reach 5.4 m. The largest can reach lengths of 6 m or more, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Since being introduced in Florida in the 1970s, the invasive pythons have bred successfully in the southern regions of the state, where they prey on many native birds and mammals, as well as the occasional alligator or pet dog, Live Science reported.

A 3.7 m snake nicknamed Dion served as bait for the record-setting female that the team captured in December.

At that time, the team of researchers noticed Dion had stationed himself in one particular location near Naples, within the western Everglades’ ecosystem. When they went to check on him, they found him coiled near a monstrous female.

After an intense wrestling match, the researchers managed to wrangle the huge female into a bag, which they then secured and transported to their research facility.

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Giant stingray caught in Cambodia is world’s largest freshwater fish

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(Last Updated On: June 22, 2022)

The largest freshwater fish ever recorded was captured in the Mekong River in Cambodia last week by a fisherman collaborating with researchers to document the river’s biodiversity.

The four-meter endangered giant freshwater stingray (Urogymnus polylepis) was hauled from the river on June 13 before being measured and released back into the wild, the non-profit conservation news service Mongabay reported.

Weighing in at nearly 300 kilograms, the stingray surpasses the previous record holder, a 293-kg Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) caught in Thailand in 2005.

Experts say the find emphasizes what’s at stake in the Mekong, a river that’s facing a slew of development threats, including major hydropower dams that have altered the river’s natural flow and exacerbated low river levels due to dry-season droughts in recent years, Mongabay reported.

“This is an absolutely astonishing discovery, and justifies efforts to better understand the mysteries surrounding this species and the incredible stretch of river where it lives,” Zeb Hogan, a fish biologist and leader of the USAID-funded Wonders of the Mekong project, said in a statement.

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