Honolulu, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Astronomers have stopped peering through 13 telescopes on top of Hawaii's tallest peak as protesters block the road to try to prevent construction of a giant observatory on the mountain that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.
Dozens of researchers from around the globe won't be able to gather data and study the sky atop Mauna Kea, one of the world's best spots for astronomy with clear weather nearly year-round and minimal light pollution.
Observations won't resume until staffers have consistent access to the summit, which is needed to ensure their safety, said Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, one of the existing telescopes.
"Our science time is precious, but in this case, our priority is just to make sure all of our staff is safe," Dempsey said.
The announcement came as Native Hawaiian protesters blocked the base of the road for a second day Tuesday. They object to construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, which is expected to be one of the world's most advanced when it's built, out of concern it will further harm the mountain.
Hawaii authorities haven't arrested any protesters but have indicated they would. Law enforcement was focused on preparing a path to construction, said Jason Redulla, chief of the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
Protesters said they told authorities that they would allow telescope technicians to pass if they could drive one car to the summit each day for cultural and religious practices. No agreement was reached.
The East Asian Observatory was scheduled to study carbon monoxide clouds in star-forming regions inside the Milky Way on Tuesday night. Dempsey called the clouds "the DNA of how baby stars form" and said they help astronomers figure out how stars work.
Officials closed the road to the top of the mountain starting this week to allow construction to begin, attracting hundreds of protesters who formed their own roadblocks.
Gov. David Ige has said unarmed National Guard units would be used to transport personnel and supplies to the peak but would not be used as law enforcement during the protests.
Demonstrators said they wouldn't allow National Guard members to pass.
Kaho'okahi Kanuha, one of the protest leaders, told reporters that efforts to stop the Thirty Meter Telescope were about protecting Hawaii's indigenous people.
"This is about our right to exist," he said. "We fight and resist and we stand, or we disappear forever."
Other Native Hawaiians say they don't believe the Thirty Meter Telescope will desecrate Mauna Kea. Most of the cultural practices on the mountain take place away from the summit, said Annette Reyes, a Native Hawaiian from the Big Island.
"It's going to be out of sight, out of mind," she said.
Reyes said many others agree, but they're reluctant to publicly support the telescope because of bullying from protesters, a group she calls a "vocal minority." She says she's been called a fake Hawaiian for supporting the project.
Reyes said Hawaii's young people can't afford to miss out on educational opportunities, citing telescope officials' pledge to provide $1 million every year to boost science, technology, engineering and math education.
She challenged the characterization of the dispute as a clash between science and culture, saying science was an integral part of ancient Hawaiian lives.
"Everything they did was science, from growing fish and taro to wayfinding," Reyes said.
The project has been delayed by years of legal battles and demonstrations. Last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that telescope officials had legally obtained a permit, clearing the way for construction to begin.
Telescope opponents last week filed another petition in court, saying the project must post a security bond equivalent to the construction contract cost before starting to build.
Doug Ing, an attorney for the Thirty Meter Telescope, said the latest lawsuit has no merit and is another delay tactic.
The company behind the project is made up of a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.
New York, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Scientists say they nearly eliminated disease-carrying mosquitoes on two islands in China using a new technique.
But it's not clear whether this will be practical for larger areas or how expensive it'll be.
In the experiment, researchers targeted Asian tiger mosquitoes, invasive white-striped bugs that can spread dengue fever, Zika and other diseases. They used a novel technique that combined exposing the insects to radiation and infecting them with a bacterium.
For 18 weeks in 2016 and 2017, they released male mosquitoes onto two small islands near Guangzhou, China, a region plagued by dengue fever. The number of female mosquitoes that are responsible for disease spread plummeted by 83% to 94% each year, similar to other methods like spraying insecticides and using genetically modified mosquitoes.
Findings appear Wednesday in Nature.
Dhaka, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) - Apple and Google are rolling out dozens of new emojis that include cute critters, of course, but also expand the number of images of human diversity.
Apple Inc. is releasing new variants of its holding hands emoji that allow people to pick any combination of skin tone and gender, 75 possible combinations in all. There are also wheelchairs, prosthetic arms and legs, as well as a new guide dog and an ear with a hearing aid.
And then there's the sloth, the flamingo, the skunk, the orangutan, as well as a new yawning emoji.
Google, meanwhile, will offer 71 versions of couples with different skin tones once the additions are completed. Google is also adding an emoji for the Diya lamp so that Diwali can be celebrated alongside Christmas and Thanksgiving.
New emojis routinely pop up every year. Earlier this year the Unicode Consortium approved 71 new variations of emoji for couples of color. Apple and Google unveiled their designs Wednesday to coincide with World Emoji Day .
Anyone can propose an emoji. But for it to make it to phones and computers, it has to be approved by Unicode. The nonprofit group, mostly made up of people from large tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, translates emoji into one standard, so that a person in France, for example, can send an emoji or a text message to a person in the U.S. and it will look the same, no matter what brand of phone or operating system they use.
It's this group that ultimately weighs in on whether we get a sad pile of poop to complement the smiling one, or whether sliced bagel deserves an emoji alongside bread and croissant.
Apple's new emojis will be available in a few months with a free software update for the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch. Google said its emojis will be released with Android Q later this year.
Washington, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Under sharp criticism from senators, a Facebook executive on Tuesday defended the social network's ambitious plan to create a digital currency and pledged to work with regulators to achieve a system that protects the privacy of users' data.
"We know we need to take the time to get this right," David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, told the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing.
But that message did little to assure senators. Members of both parties demanded to know why a company with massive market power and a track record of scandals should be trusted with such a far-reaching project, given the potential for fraud, abuse and criminal activity.
"Facebook is dangerous," asserted Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee's senior Democrat. Like a toddler playing with matches, "Facebook has burned down the house over and over," he told Marcus. "Do you really think people should trust you with their bank accounts and their money?"
Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said "the core issue here is trust." Users won't be able to opt out of providing their personal data when joining the new digital wallet for Libra, McSally said. "Arizonans will be more likely to be scammed" using the currency, she said.
The litany of criticism came as Congress began two days of hearings on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra. Meanwhile, a House Judiciary subcommittee extended its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
On the defensive from bursts of aggressive questioning, Facebook's Marcus indicated the currency plan is a work in progress. "We will take the time" to ensure the network won't be open to use by criminals and illicit activity like money laundering and financial fraud. "We hope that we'll avoid conflicts of interest. We have a lot of work to do," Marcus said.
He said the new venture would be headquartered in Switzerland, not to avoid oversight but because the country is a recognized international financial center.
The grilling followed a series of negative comments and warnings about the Libra plan in recent days from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.
But some senators emphasized the potential positive benefits of Facebook's plan, meant to bring money transacting at low cost to millions around the globe who don't have bank accounts. Facebook had its strong defenders of the project, too, on the panel.
"To strangle this baby in the crib is wildly premature," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
In that vein, Marcus said Libra "is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure."
The planned digital currency is to be a blend of multiple currencies, so that its value will fluctuate in any given local currency. Because Libra will be backed by a reserve, and because the group of companies managing it will encourage a competitive system of exchanges, the project leaders say, "anyone with Libra has a high degree of assurance they can sell it for local (sovereign) currency based on an exchange rate."
Promising low fees, the new currency system could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users' data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.
To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won't have any special rights or privileges. It also created a "digital wallet" subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won't see financial data from it, the company says.
Senators demanded to know exactly what that separation will entail.
"Facebook isn't a company; it's a country," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Kennedy and other conservative senators took the occasion to air long-standing grievances against Facebook, Twitter and Google for a perceived bias against conservative views.
Facebook's currency proposal has also faced heavy skepticism from the Trump administration.
Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, "will have little standing or dependability." Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.
The Treasury Department has "very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers," Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. "This is indeed a national security issue."
Also Tuesday, across the Capitol in the House, the chairman of a Judiciary Committee panel investigating the market power of big tech companies said Congress and antitrust regulators wrongly allowed them to regulate themselves. That enabled companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple to operate out of control, dominating the internet and choking off online innovation, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said at the start of a hearing.
"The internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship," he said.
As concerns have mounted over data privacy and market dominance of Big Tech, an increasing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for tighter regulation of customarily free-wheeling companies or even breaking them up. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are pursuing antitrust investigations of the four major companies.
Executives of the companies, testifying at the Judiciary hearing, pushed back against lawmakers' accusations that they operate as monopolies, laying out ways in which they say they compete fairly yet vigorously against rivals in the marketplace.
And Google executive Karan Bhatia, at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on online bias, insisted that the company's search engine does not filter on the basis of political views. "We surface the results that are most responsive," he said. "We don't use political (markers) to blacklist or whitelist."
Cape Canaveral, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Collins had the spotlight to himself this time — Armstrong has been gone for seven years and Aldrin canceled. Collins said he wished his two moonwalking colleagues could have shared the moment at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, the departure point for humanity's first moon landing.
"Wonderful feeling to be back," the 88-year-old command module pilot said on NASA TV. "There's a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I'm here by myself."
At NASA's invitation, Collins marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off. He was seated at the base of the pad alongside Kennedy's director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander.
Collins recalled the tension surrounding the crew that day.
"Apollo 11 ... was serious business. We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could," he said.
Collins remained in lunar orbit, tending to Columbia, the mother ship, while Armstrong and Aldrin landed in the Eagle on July 20, 1969, and spent 2 ½ hours walking the gray, dusty lunar surface.
A reunion Tuesday at the Kennedy firing room by past and present launch controllers — and Collins' return to the pad, now leased to SpaceX — kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11's eight-day voyage.
In Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V was developed, some 4,900 model rockets lifted off simultaneously, commemorating the moment the Apollo 11 crew blasted off for the moon. More than 1,000 youngsters attending Space Camp counted down ... "5, 4, 3, 2, 1!" — and cheered as the red, white and blue rockets created a gray cloud, at least for a few moments, in the sky.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center was shooting for an altitude of at least 100 feet (30 meters) in order to set a new Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden helped with the mass launching. Also present: all three children of German-born rocket genius Wernher von Braun, who masterminded the Saturn V.
"This was a blast. This was an absolute blast," said spectator Scott Hayek of Ellicott City, Maryland. "And, you know, what a tribute - and, a visceral tribute - to see the rockets going off."
Another spectator, Karin Wise, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was 19 during Apollo 11 and recalled being glued to TV coverage.
"So, to bring my grandchildren here for the 50 anniversary, was so special," she said. "I hope they're around for the 100th anniversary."
At the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, the spacesuit that Armstrong wore went back on display in mint condition, complete with lunar dust left on the suit's knees, thighs and elbows. On hand for the unveiling were Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Armstrong's older son, Rick. Armstrong died in 2012.
A fundraising campaign took just five days to raise the $500,000 needed for the restoration. It was taken off display 13 years ago because it was deteriorating, said museum curator Cathleen Lewis. It took four years to rehab it.
Calling Armstrong a hero, Pence said "the American people express their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage."
Back at Kennedy, NASA televised original launch video of Apollo 11, timed down to the second. Then Cabana turned his conversation with Collins to NASA's next moonshot program, Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology's Apollo. It seeks to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface — the moon's south pole — by 2024. President John F. Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of 1969 took eight years to achieve.
Collins said he likes the name Artemis and, even more, likes the concept behind Artemis.
"But I don't want to go back to the moon," Collins told Cabana. "I want to go direct to Mars. I call it the JFK Mars Express."
Collins noted that the moon-first crowd has merit to its argument and he pointed out Armstrong himself was among those who believed returning to the moon "would assist us mightily in our attempt to go to Mars."
Cabana assured Collins, "We believe the faster we get to the moon, the faster we get to Mars as we develop those systems that we need to make that happen."
About 100 of the original 500 launch controllers and managers on July 16, 1969, reunited in the firing room Tuesday morning. The crowd also included members of NASA's next moon management team, including Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the still-in-development Space Launch System moon rocket. The SLS will surpass the Saturn V, the world's most powerful rocket to fly to date.
Blackwell-Thompson said she got goosebumps listening to the replay of the Apollo 11 countdown. Hearing Collins' "personal account of what that was like was absolutely amazing."
The lone female launch controller for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, enjoyed seeing the much updated- firing room. One thing was notably missing, though: stacks of paper. "We could have walked to the moon on the paper," Morgan said.
Collins was reunited later Tuesday with two other Apollo astronauts at an evening gala at Kennedy, including Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke, who was the capsule communicator in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Only four of the 12 moonwalkers from 1969 through 1972 are still alive: Aldrin, Duke, Apollo 15's David Scott and Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt.
Among the gala attendees: Eight former shuttle astronauts, including Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and "space lover" and aspiring space tourist Vesa Heilala, 52, who traveled from Helsinki to Florida for the anniversary.
"I had to come here because in Finland we don't have rockets and we don't have astronauts for 50 years," said Heilala, who was collecting astronaut autographs on his colorful propeller cap.
Huntsville's rocket center also had a special anniversary dinner Tuesday night, with some retired Apollo and Skylab astronauts and rocket scientists. Aldrin was set to attend but was traveling Tuesday and likely wouldn't make it on time, a center official said.
Aldrin, 89, hosted a gala in Southern California last Saturday.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Aldrin bowed out of the Florida launch pad visit, citing his intense schedule of appearances. Aldrin and Collins may reunite in Washington on Friday or Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing.