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    Vice / Jul 1, 2019
    Russia Is About to Tow its "Floating Chernobyl" Through the Arctic Circle
    • By Alex Lubben
    В следующем месяце планируется доставка в Арктику плавучей атомной электростанции «Академик Ломоносов», которая должна будет снабжать электричеством горное производство на Чукотке. В мировой практике уже были случаи, когда размещенные на кораблях атомные реакторы использовались для энергоснабжения объектов на суше, но безопасность эксплуатации подобного сооружения в арктических условиях вызывает у экологов серьезные сомнения.

Russia is deploying what critics call a "floating Chernobyl" to fuel its ambitions in the Arctic.
In a world’s first, Russia will ship a nuclear power plant on a barge from a point north of Moscow across the Arctic, thousands of miles, to an extremely remote area where it’ll power offshore oil and gas rigs.
The plant’s been under construction for almost 9 years, according to NPR, and is just finally ready to be commissioned. The plant’s two reactors sit atop a nearly 500-foot platform, which will be pulled by tugboats through the Northern Sea Route starting next month, according to CNN. Its path will take it north of mainland Russia in the Arctic Circle, to a tiny port town called Pevek some 3,000 miles away from where it is now in Murmansk. There, it’ll be used to power mining operations in the Chukotka region.
To critics, this nuclear-powered barge looks like a "floating Chernobyl," as they’ve dubbed it, a reference to the Soviet nuclear plant that exploded in 1986. But to Russian President Vladimir Putin, it looks like a floating dollar sign: It’ll be used to fuel Russia’s ambition to develop the Arctic and mine it as its fossil fuel reserves in Siberia start to dry up, according to CNN.
Called the Akademik Lomonosov, the plant is key to Russian plans to develop the Arctic economically and tap into reserves of oil and gas in the region. Some of these towns in Russia’s arctic are extremely remote; Russian officials hope that using a floating nuclear plant might help power them.
Russia’s expansion into the thawing Arctic has created geopolitical worries for the U.S. As sea ice thins in the Arctic Circle, the U.S. is competing with nations like Russia, China, and Canada for supremacy in the region and control over oil reserves up there than have become accessible.
But it’s not just geopolitics that are playing out in the Arctic. Commercial interests are eyeing it too.
The Northwest Passage - the long sought-after sea route from Europe to the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic circle - is quickly becoming more navigable. As it opens up, not only are governments competing for access to the contested region to assert their geopolitical power over it, commercial cruise ships are also setting sail on it. A partially battery-powered cruise will ship off from Norway this week, head through the Northwest Passage, and make a pit stop in Alaska before heading to the South Pole. Tickets start at about $9,000.
Besides the geopolitical concerns, some nuclear experts and environmental advocates warn that this particular plant, because it’s, well, floating, might not be equipped with all the features that would keep it operating safely. Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has called it a "Chernobyl on Ice," and opposes the very idea of a floating nuclear power plant.
But nuclear power has been put to use on ships and submarines before - and there’s actually a history of those subs and boats running on nuclear power getting plugged into electrical grids to power cities and towns on land. A U.S. warship from World War II was plugged into the grid in Panama, where it provided electricity to both civil and military uses until 1976, according to Ars Technica.
Still, the memory of Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011 - where a tsunami struck and flooded a nuclear plant and led to three reactor meltdowns - is still fresh. Scientists working on the plant say they’ve learned Fukushima’s lessons. "This rig can't be torn out of moorings, even with a 9-point tsunami," Dmitry Alekseenko, deputy director of the Lomonosov plant, told CNN.
Others aren’t convinced: Experts at Bellona, an environmental group that monitors nuclear projects, issued a report that noted that if the plant were struck by a tsunami, it could wind up getting washed ashore, landing near people without the ability to reliably prevent a meltdown.

* * *
    La Croix / le 01/07/2019
    La navigation dans l’Arctique, un risque pour l’environnement ?
    • Par Emmanuelle Réju et Alain Guillemoles
    Каковы возможные экологические последствия планов России по развитию судоходства по Северному морскому пути?

La Russie envisage de faire des 4 000 km reliant le détroit de Béring à la mer de Kara un axe commercial entre l’Europe et l’Asie. Quelles conséquences environnementales aurait un tel projet ?
« Peu de risques de dommages, sauf en cas d’accident »
Paul Tourret, directeur de l’Institut supérieur d’économie maritime
Les risques de dommages à l’environnement liés à l’ouverture d’une route passant par le nord de la Russie restent limités, car la principale source de pollution des navires est le rejet de fumées. Or ces fumées se dissipent dans l’atmosphère et n’ont pas d’impact spécifique sur cette région.
Le vrai risque est celui d’un accident : une collision qui pourrait entraîner une déchirure de coque ou un naufrage. La route du Nord-Est présente des conditions de navigation très difficiles. Les navires longent la côte nord de la Russie par un certain nombre de détroits, dans des paysages assez inhospitaliers. Les eaux sont encombrées de glaces. Or un certain nombre de pétroliers passent par là, des méthaniers, des vraquiers qui transportent du charbon et quelques rares porte-conteneurs.
Le développement de la circulation maritime devrait rester limité
Pour limiter les risques d’accident, les navires doivent obligatoirement avoir une coque renforcée. L’État russe se charge d’assurer la sécurité, grâce à 14 points de secours qui ont été créés. Des brise-glace à propulsion nucléaire y sont stationnés pour se porter au secours de navires qui se trouveraient en difficulté.
Par ailleurs, le développement de la circulation maritime dans cette zone devrait selon moi rester limité. Je ne crois pas que ce passage devienne rapidement un grand couloir de circulation maritime. Les navires conçus pour naviguer dans ces zones polaires sont en effet plus chers que les navires standards. Les compagnies de transport sont peu enclines à investir, surtout pour une période aussi courte de navigation. La pleine saison ne dure en effet que quatre mois environ.
« Des espèces menacées pourraient être perturbées »
François Chartier, chargé de campagne Océans chez Greenpeace France
Le trafic maritime va inévitablement se développer dans cette zone. Tout simplement parce que la glace fond de plus en plus vite. Il est d’ores et déjà possible d’y naviguer l’été sans brise-glace. Dans peu de temps, des porte-conteneurs géants de 300 mètres pourront y circuler sans problème. Pour les échanges entre la Chine et l’Europe, cela représentera des milliers de milles nautiques évités et donc des économies de carburant.
Ce développement du trafic présente plusieurs risques pour l’environnement. Sans même parler d’une marée noire de type Erika, un accident peut entraîner la diffusion du fioul de soute dans la banquise. Une pollution qu’il sera impossible à nettoyer. Les conditions climatiques pendant toute une partie de l’année empêchent en effet toute intervention. C’est l’une des raisons pour lesquelles Shell a renoncé à forer dans l’Arctique.
Le développement du tourisme arctique n’est pas sans risque pour les espèces menacées
Par ailleurs, les cétacés sont nombreux dans cette région du globe. Ils pourront être perturbés par le bruit des navires, le pire étant les sonars utilisés dans la recherche d’hydrocarbures ou par les navires militaires. Le risque de collision entre un porte-conteneurs et une baleine ne sera pas négligeable, d’autant que la vitesse de ces navires ne cesse d’augmenter.
Le développement du trafic ne s’arrêtera pas au transport d’hydrocarbures ou de marchandises. Avec la fonte des glaces, les navires de croisière vont suivre les pionniers du pétrole et les porte-conteneurs. Or le développement du tourisme arctique n’est pas sans risque pour les espèces menacées, en particulier pour les ours polaires.

© 2019 - Bayard Presse - Tous droits reserves.
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    The Barents Observer / July 08, 2019
    Scientists use ROV to check radiation at deep-sea sub wreak near Bear Island
    Norwegian and Russian researchers sail joint expedition to the site where the submarine "Komsomolets" sank in 1989.
    • By Thomas Nilsen
    Норвежские и российские ученые отправились в совместную экспедицию к месту гибели атомной подводной лодки «Комсомолец», затонувшей после пожара 7 апреля 1989 года в Норвежском море. Такие экспедиции проводятся с начала 1990-х годов, чтобы отслеживать уровень утечки радиации.

The unique titanium hull Soviet submarine "Komsomolets" sank after a fire on April 7th 1989 some 180 kilometres south of the Bear Island in the Norwegian Sea.
41 members of the crew died in the cold water as the submarine sank to a depth of 1,680 meters. This week, Norwegian research ship "G. O. Sars", sailing for the Marine Research Institute, is at the site with a deep diving remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV).
"Now we come closer to the wreak than ever before, and get even better sampling," says expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal with the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.
"Komsomolets" has one nuclear reactor and two torpedoes tipped with plutonium warheads. Each of the warheads contains about 3 kilograms of plutonium-239, in diameter about the size of a tennis ball.
With a half-life of 24,000 years, the plutonium poses a treat, although experts say the chances of reaching the food chain is highly limited as there are very little marine life at the depth of the submarine wreak.
In the early 1990s and in 2007, Russian scientists measured small radioactive leakages at "Komsomolets", including the isotope Cesium-137 from a pipe near the reactor compartment. Later, Norwegian expeditions to the site has not measured any radioactivity, but unlike the Russian expeditions in the early 1990s which went down with a MIR mini-sub, the Norwegians have not been down deep with a submarine.
The ROV used this summer is named "Ægir 6000" and is a vehicle equipped with both camera and steering arms to take samples.
"This expedition will give us updated and important knowledge about the pollution situation around the wreak," says Hilde Elise Heldal.
"We have to monitor the levels of radioactivity in fish and seafood. The aim is to document that the environmental conditions in the Barents Sea is good and that seafood from the area is safe to eat."

© 2002-2019.
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    EurekAlert / 10-Jul-2019
    Nuclear physics in search of world artifacts
    The first 3D images of the oldest Christian church in Russia were obtained.
    Ученые из НИТУ «МИСиС», Физического института им. П.Н.Лебедева РАН, НИИ ядерной физики им. Д.В.Скобельцына, МГУ и Дагестанского государственного университета опубликовали первые результаты сканирования крестообразного подземного помещения IV века, обнаруженного на территории крепости Нарын-кала в Дербенте. Согласно предварительному выводу, первоначальное предположение археологов о том, что сооружение может оказаться древнейшим на территории России христианским храмом, скорее всего, верно. Окончательно определить назначение необычной конструкции поможет трехмерная томограмма на следующем этапе эксперимента.

NUST MISIS scientists together with the colleagues from P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics Lomonosov Moscow State University and Dagestan State University have published the first results of a "scan" obtained by the method of muon radiography of the underground space in the Derbent fortress of Naryn-Kala. The preliminary conclusion of the scientists - the hypothesis of archaeologists about the use of the building as a Christian temple is most likely to be true. If this theory is confirmed, this building is one of the oldest churches in the world.
The 12-meter building is almost completely hidden under the ground, only a fragment of a half-destroyed dome is visible above the surface. This building in the northwestern part of the Naryn-Kala fortress in Derbent dates back to about 300 A.D. To date, the issue of the function of the building has not been resolved: a reservoir, a Christian temple, or a Zoroastrian fire temple. If this is really a Christian temple, then we can talk about the oldest in the country and one of the oldest in the world Christian churches, which was covered with soil by Arabs after the capture of Derbent in about 700 A.D.
It is not possible for archaeologists to come to a consensus because the excavations of the temple, used for two centuries as a reservoir, can destroy a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Therefore, to study the premises, scientists used the method of muon radiography, placing several innovative detectors with a nuclear emulsion inside a buried building at a depth of 10 meters from the surface of the earth. The research lasted from May to September 2018, the first data obtained confirmed the effectiveness of the method for the study of this specific object.
The purpose of the experiment was to find out the possibility of studying the selected archaeological object using muon radiography, determine the optimal exposure, the number, size, and location of the detectors, get the first images of the object using nuclear emulsions. The results obtained from the muon detector made it possible to confirm the reliability of the study of the building using muon radiography (which was not obvious given the similar density of soil around the building and the shell-limestone walls) and suggest a plan for a full-scale experiment to identify the contours of the building as a whole.
In addition, already in the first test experiment, physicists "saw" an unusual distribution of muon fluxes in the western wing of the building, which may be related to the architectural features, indistinguishable by fragments of walls located above ground. The construction, built of local shell-limestone, is about 11 meters high and extends 15 meters from south to north and 13.4 meters from west to east. Segments (arm) of a cruciform design have a width of about 5 meters, three arms of a length of about 4.2 m, and the fourth (northern) - more than 6 meters. The brackets are covered with vaults, and a dome wire frame with a diameter of 5 meters is located above the central part.
In a number of historical and reference sources, this construction is referred to as an underground water tank, as it was in the XVII - XVIII centuries. However, the first experiment gave reason to doubt this hypothesis. The main reasons for the interpretation of this building as the original religious building were the unusual for reservoirs, but common for early churches and fire temples cross shape of the building and its orientation to the sides of the world.
"It seems very strange to me to interpret this building as a water tank. In the same fortress of Naryn-Kala, there is an equal underground structure of 10 meters depth, and it really is a tank. This is just a rectangular building. The unusual building, in which we have put our detectors, has the shape of a cross, oriented strictly to the sides of the world, one side is 2 meters longer than the others. As the archaeologists who began excavations say, during construction, the building was entirely on the surface and it stands on the highest point of the Naryn-Kala. What is the sense to put the tank on the surface, and even on the highest mountain? It is strange. Currently, there are more questions than answers," says the head of the scientific group, Ph.D. in Physics and Mathematics, NUST MISIS leading expert Natalia Polukhina.
As the authors of the study emphasize, the characteristics of the probing radiation at this object require the subsequent irradiation of muon detectors in the area under study, and therefore, the continuation of the experiments. The installation of detectors on the western slope of the fortress outside the walls of the building will be especially effective in order to obtain its full-size underground image. The main result of the next stage of the experiments will be the final three-dimensional tomogram of the underground building, which will help to define the purpose of this unusual facility.

Copyright © 2019 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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    Nature / 10 July 2019
    First Moon landing was nearly a US-Soviet mission
    As today’s tensions mount, it is salutary to recall that cooperation was on the table during the cold war, writes Roger D. Launius.
    • Roger D. Launius
    Одна из статей тематического выпуска журнала Nature в честь 50-летия первой высадки человека на Луне посвящена соперничеству и сотрудничеству США и СССР в годы холодной войны. Космическая гонка не стала препятствием для научных соглашений и совместных проектов. В качестве последнего одно время рассматривалась даже программа «Аполлон», отправившая в итоге на Луну первых космонавтов.

The Apollo programme that took humans to the Moon is properly viewed as an outgrowth of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, as strained US relations with foreign powers threaten science once more, it is worth recalling how surprisingly close the Moonshot came to becoming a cooperative venture.
On 25 May 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the US commitment to astronauts reaching the Moon by the end of the decade, stoking Americans’ patriotism and pioneer spirit - a particularly fascinating period for me, a former chief historian of NASA. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s successful Moon landing, few people are aware that almost immediately afterwards, Kennedy explored the possibility of bringing the Soviet Union - then the only other spacefaring nation - into the venture as a full partner. This would have reshaped the programme from one of competition into one that fostered international cooperation.
Kennedy proposed as much to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, at their first and only summit in June 1961. Khrushchev insisted that such discussion should await the negotiation of a nuclear-test-ban treaty. Kennedy revisited the idea of cooperation repeatedly thereafter. By autumn 1963, his vision was to form an Apollo programme that would build bridges between the two superpowers, instead of heightening cold-war rivalries.
But the timing never worked. A series of conflicts between the two nations in 1961 and 1962 - in the stand-off that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis and so on - blunted efforts at genuine cooperation.
Nonetheless, by September 1963, relations had improved and Kennedy invited the Soviet Union to work with the United States. Addressing the United Nations, he offered the vision of a joint lunar expedition. "Space offers no problems of sovereignty," he said, and spoke of sending scientists to the Moon as representatives of all countries, not of a single nation.
By that time, Khrushchev had started to think the idea had merit, but Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963 scotched the plan. The Americans went on to win the space race, and landed Apollo astronauts on the Moon six times between July 1969 and December 1972. The Soviets tried and failed in their own landing programme, although their robotic sample-return missions were a success.
Strained relations
Still, cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union in space remained a constant subtext throughout the cold war. Often informal, this enjoyed varying degrees of support from national leaders on both sides. The most significant venture came as a result of the detente during the early 1970s, and led to the highly successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. This saw a US and a Soviet spacecraft dock in orbit, and got cosmonauts and astronauts working together on experiments.
The conclusion of the cold war ushered in a new era of joint space endeavours. For the duration of the US Space Shuttle programme (between 1981 and 2011) and the International Space Station (ISS; continuously occupied since 2000), NASA has worked with several international partners. Since 1992, that has included the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
Bringing Russia into the international coalition that constructed the ISS in 1993 was a trailblazing achievement. It has had its difficulties - what long-standing relationship does not have rough patches? But, unquestionably, it has been a stunning success. When the significance of the ISS is reconsidered in the next century and beyond, I think that its greatest achievement will be seen as promoting peaceful cooperation among many nations.
The United States and Russia have uniquely complementary capabilities, and they have been at each other’s side for more than 25 years as humans push back the final frontier. Through their efforts, low Earth orbit has become a normal realm of human activity. Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft transport system, the US Space Shuttle and the various space stations have made Earth orbit feel like a backyard. We are beginning to see the expansion of orbital commerce, all to the good, and perhaps the prospect of a return to the Moon through a broad international consortium, including the United States and Russia.
All that history puts recent scuffles in new light. One was the January decision by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to withdraw an invitation to the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, to visit the United States. It highlights geopolitical challenges that have long been present, especially with the Soviet Union and now Russia. Rogozin was serving as Russia’s deputy prime minister in 2014, and was outspoken when the United States imposed sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula that year. The Russian space agency warned that Bridenstine’s decision could lead to the termination of existing cooperative agreements and make future deals more difficult. Given decades of history, this is doubtful, but possible.
The fact is, every aspect of space exploration and development advances through cooperative initiatives. At present, the human spaceflight programmes of all nations have been most successful when inextricably linked to each other. Disentangling them would be difficult, expensive, time-consuming and foolhardy.
For decades, the United States and Russia have had terrestrial differences. These should remain on Earth. Cooperation in space continues to light the way, and should be encouraged by all sides.

© 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG.
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    Newsweek / 7/8/19
    Russia wants to build "large scale structures" on the Moon using lunar soil and 3D printing
    • By Aristos Georgiou
    К 2040 году «Роскосмос» планирует построить на Луне базу при помощи 3D-печати - из лунного грунта и на солнечной энергии.

Russia has set its sights on building a base on the moon - and it will accomplish this feat with the help of 3D printing - or additive - technologies that utilize lunar soil, a spokesperson for the country's space corporation Roscosmos told Russian state-owned news agency TASS.
Roscosmos has said that it wants to establish a lunar base by 2040 as part of a three-stage program.
The first of these will see a spacecraft sent to orbit the moon, The Moscow Times reported. The second will involved a manned mission to the lunar surface and the initiation of moon base construction - expected to take place between 2025 and 2034. The third stage will see the finishing touches added to the moon base.
The Roscosmos spokesperson said that the "construction of large-scale structures" would take place with the use of "additive technologies and local resources." The spokesperson also noted that the third stage would involve "furnishing scientific and industrial objects with equipment" as well as the creation of structures that are crucial for supporting the lives of astronauts on the moon.
Previously, Russian aerospace company NPO Lavochkin said that such 3D printing technology could be powered by solar energy, and would use moon dust to create specialized objects. Furthermore, Director General of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, previously told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that this 3D printing could be used to create new parts for lunar technologies, as well as to repair equipment, thus reducing the need for costly resupply missions from Earth.
In late 2018, Roscosmos announced that the moon base would be managed in the long-term with the help of humans on Earth controlling robot "avatars" on the lunar surface.
"We're talking about creating a long-term base, not constantly manned, but visitable," Rogozin told RIA Novosti in November of that year.
NASA has also set its sights on establishing a permanent presence on the moon as part of its longer-term goal of reaching Mars. The space agency wants to begin conducting sustainable lunar surface missions by the late 2020s.
These will be conducted from NASA's so-called lunar "Gateway" - a small spaceship for astronauts and science experiments that will orbit the moon, acting as a kind of staging post.
As part of these future space exploration plans, the space agency wants to put the first woman on the lunar surface by 2024. However, the mission, dubbed "Artemis," is still in its early stages of development, and there are several significant challenges to overcome before it is ready to put people on the moon.

© 2019 NEWSWEEK.
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    В Смоленске российские и французские археологи обнаружили предположительное место захоронения друга и соратника Наполеона - дивизионного генерала Шарля Гюдена, умершего в результате полученных в бою ранений 22 августа 1812 года. Точное местонахождение его могилы было до сих пор неизвестно.

An excavation in a peculiar place - under the foundation of a dance floor in Russia - has uncovered the remains of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's favorite generals: a one-legged man who was killed by a cannonball more than 200 years ago, news sources report.
Gen. Charles Etienne Gudin fought with Napoleon during the failed French invasion of Russia in 1812. On July 6 of this year, an international team of French and Russian archaeologists discovered what are believed to be his remains, in Smolensk, a city about 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Moscow, according to Reuters.
After his death at age 44 on Aug. 22, 1812, Gudin got star treatment. His name was inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, his bust was placed at the Palace of Versailles, a Paris street was named after him and, as a sentimental gesture, his heart was removed from his body and placed in a chapel at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
The researchers said that several clues suggested that the skeleton they found under the dance floor belongs to Gudin, who had known Napoleon since childhood. Both men attended the Military School in Brienne, in France's Champagne region. Upon hearing of Gudin's death, Napoleon reportedly cried and ordered that his friend's name be engraved on the Arc de Triomphe, according to Euronews.
Records from the 1812 Russian invasion note that Gudin's battlefield injuries required him to have his left leg amputated below the knee, Euronews reported. Indeed, the skeleton in the coffin was missing its left leg and showed evidence of injury to the right leg - details that were also mentioned in those records, the archaeologists said, according to Reuters.
Moreover, it was "with a high degree of probability" that the remains the team uncovered belonged to an aristocrat and a military veteran of both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, they said, according to Reuters.
"It's a historic moment not only for me, but for I think for our two countries," French historian and archaeologist Pierre Malinovsky, who helped find the remains, told the Smolensk newspaper Rabochiy Put (Worker's Journey), according to Reuters. "Napoleon was one of the last people to see him alive, which is very important, and he's the first general from the Napoleonic period that we have found."
The general has known living descendants, so researchers plan to test the skeleton for DNA. That way, they'll be able to say for sure whether the remains are those of Gudin.
Gudin, however, is hardly the only French fatality recently found in Russia. Earlier this year, scientists did a virtual facial reconstruction of a man in his 20s who was slashed in the face with a saber and died during the invasion of Russia.

Copyright © 2019 All Rights Reserved.
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    BBC News / 13 July 2019
    Spektr-RG: Powerful X-ray telescope launches to map cosmos
    • By Jonathan Amos
    С космодрома Байконур состоялся запуск российско-германского космического аппарата «Спектр-Рентген-Гамма» с двумя рентгеновскими телескопами. Главная цель орбитальной обсерватории - нанести на карту около 100 000 скоплений галактик, изучение которых может пролить свет на эволюцию Вселенной и природу темной энергии, ускоряющей ее расширение.

One of the most significant Russian space science missions in the post-Soviet era has launched from Baikonur.
The Spektr-RG telescope is a joint venture with Germany that will map X-rays across the entire sky in unprecedented detail. Researchers say this information will help them trace the large-scale structure of the Universe. The hope is Spektr-RG can provide fresh insights on the accelerating behaviour of cosmic expansion. It should also identify a staggering number of new X-ray sources, such as the colossal black holes that reside at the centre of galaxies.
As gas falls into these monsters, the matter is heated and shredded and "screams" in X-rays. The radiation is essentially a telltale for the Universe's most violent phenomena. Spektr-RG is expecting to detect perhaps three million super-massive black holes during its service life.
The telescope rode to orbit atop a Proton rocket which left the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 17:31 local time (12:31 GMT). It will be many weeks however before the mission's work can begin in earnest.
The spacecraft must first travel to a popular observing position some 1.5 million km from Earth known as Lagrange Point 2. It's here that Spektr-RG can enjoy a stable environment free from the shadowing and temperature swings it would otherwise experience if operating closer to our home planet. But once testing is complete, the observatory can get on with the business of scanning the sky.
Spektr-RG is constructed as a two-in-one telescope. Taking up most of the room on the spacecraft bus, or chassis, is the German-developed eRosita system. Nestled next to it is the Russian-built science hardware known as ART-XC. Both use a cluster of seven tubular mirror modules to corral the X-ray light down on to sensitive camera detectors. Working in tandem, eRosita and ART-XC will map the radiation as it floods across the cosmos in the energy range of 0.2 to 30 kiloelectron volts (keV). Over the course of six months, they should complete one full-sky survey, which will then be repeated again and again to improve on the detail. Scientists expect the data to be a revelation. An all-sky X-ray map has never before been produced at the sought-after energies and at such fine resolution.
A key goal of Spektr-RG will be to investigate the mysterious cosmic components referred to as "dark matter" and "dark energy". This duo make up 96% of the energy density of the Universe, but next to nothing is known about them. The former seems to pull on normal, visible matter gravitationally, while the latter appears to be working to drive the cosmos apart at an ever faster rate. Spektr-RG's insights will come from mapping the distribution of hot, X-ray-emitting gas. This will illuminate the great clusters of galaxies that thread across the Universe. And in doing so, it will identify where the greatest concentrations of dark matter can be found.
"We're aiming to detect about 100,000 clusters, and in fact above a certain mass limit we expect to detect all the clusters in the Universe," explained Prof Kirpal Nandra from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.
"We then measure their masses, and see how the number of clusters of a given mass evolves over cosmic time. This gives us a potentially very accurate measure of the amount of dark matter, and how it clumps together," he told BBC News.
"Our sensitivity allows us to map all this out to huge distances, all the way back to more than half the age of the Universe. That means we see the large-scale structure not just as it is today, but back then as well. And we also see how it's evolved over time. That's what gives you the ability to test cosmological models and to see perhaps the influence of dark energy and whether this has changed over time."
Spektr-RG has taken decades to develop. Russian scientists have had to cope with inconsistent funding down the years and as a consequence the concept that launched on Saturday is quite radically different from what was originally envisaged. The mission has been described as the most important astrophysics venture in post-Soviet Russia. Prof Nandra said his Russian colleagues certainly saw it that way.
"It puts them right at the forefront of X-ray astronomy; it's a massive opportunity for them," he added.

Copyright © 2019 BBC.
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    Ars Technica / 7/15/2019
    There’s a slight problem with Russia’s proposed Federation spacecraft
    "The Federation spacecraft has a colossal problem in the event of a launch abort".
    • Eric Berger
    Программа разработки пилотируемого космического корабля «Федерация» началась более десяти лет назад, именно его Россия намеревается использовать для доставки экипажей на лунную орбиту в будущем. Однако в данный момент у этого плана имеется серьезный недостаток - запуск будет проводиться с космодрома «Восточный», и в случае аварийной посадки экипаж окажется посреди Тихого океана, где у России нет никаких высокоскоростных судов.

It has been more than half a century since Russia developed its last new spacecraft for carrying humans into orbit - the venerable Soyuz capsule, which still flies both Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts into orbit today. However, over the last decade, the Russian space program has been designing and developing a new vehicle, named Federation.
Like NASA's own Orion spacecraft, the Federation capsule has been beset by delays and cost overruns for more than a decade's worth of development. But when it flies, possibly as early as 2022 aboard a Soyuz-5 rocket for a test flight, Federation would be the rare human vehicle designed to fly beyond low-Earth orbit.
However, Russian sources are reporting a problem with the vehicle's launch escape system. Federation will lift off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in far eastern Russia, located within about 600km of the Pacific Ocean. Under certain scenarios, during which Federation's launch abort system would pull it away from the rocket during an emergency, Federation could splash down in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
"Upon launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the Federation spacecraft has a colossal problem in the event of a launch abort," said Igor Verkhovskiy, head of business development for crewed programs and low-Earth-orbit satellite programs for RKK Energia, the prime contractor for Russia's space program.
"We could end up in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, where we have no high-speed ships of the Naval or civilian fleets," the Russian official said. "It could take several days for us to reach the splashdown location, risking loss of the crew." A translation of the Russian news articles was provided to Ars by Robinson Mitchell.
A Moon vehicle?
It remains unclear how far along Russia is in actually developing Federation and its critical systems to support long-duration spaceflight into deep space. Russian news sources have previously reported construction of the pressure vessel, which provides the vehicle's solid structure, only began in May. While Russian officials cite a 2022 launch date, that would seem to be unfeasible if work on the first pressure vessel did indeed only begin a few months ago.
Earlier this year, Roscosmos chief Dimitry Rogozin ordered changes at RKK Energia management - specifically in areas involved in designing the Federation spacecraft, perhaps due to delays and problems since the program first began more than a decade ago.
Eventually, Russia intends to use the Federation spacecraft for crewed missions to lunar orbit, much as NASA intends to use its Orion spacecraft. However, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of Russia's plans to send humans into deep space, and the Moon, on its own.

© 2019 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
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    Interesting Engineering / July 21st, 2019
    Current Geochemical Findings Suggest Secret Ocean in Earth's Mantle Is Much Older Than We Knew
    We have always known that our planet's ability to cycle matter through convection was unique to the Solar System. We did not realize until recently that the process was established so early in Earth's history.
    • By Dana Miller
    Международная группа ученых под руководством российских геохимиков из Института геохимии и аналитической химии имени В.И.Вернадского РАН установила, что колоссальный подземный океан в мантии Земли начал формироваться уже в первый миллиард лет ее существования за счет погружения в недра воды из древнего океана с поверхности планеты.
    Результаты работы опубликованы в журнале Nature.

Through new studies focused on komatiitic magma, geochemists associated with the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) now believe that our world's unique way of cycling matter, and particularly the elements that comprise water, indicate that the Earth's absorption of oceanic matter into its mantle may have begun as early as the first billion years our planet existed.
Earth cycles matter through a highly extraordinary process known as convection. During this mechanism, hot magma rises in the Earth's mantle and pushes other water-bearing minerals ever-deeper down into the mantle. A transition zone is reached wherein the pressure of this tectonic movement squeezes the water out of the minerals, like the wringing of a wet towel.
Established notions of the origin and architecture of the subterranean ocean resident in Earth's mantle were founded largely on work done in 2016 by a troupe of international scientists from the Vernadsky Institute for Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry. Studying in the Canadian Abitibi greenstone belt, a strip of komatiitic magma that is 2.7 billion years old, data regarding mutable features like lead and barium was extracted from the mantle's transition zone at depths ranging between 410-660km.
From this first set of data, the hypothesis sprang that a mammoth, subterrestrial cistern of water equivalent in size to the World Ocean existed.
What exactly is a komatiite?
Billions of years ago, the Earth's crust was structured on a kind of volcanic rock that has altered in composition so vastly in the intervening ages as to no longer bear fruit for scientists who wish to know more about the "volatile" (or mutable) components, such as water, within them. These ancient volcanic rocks are called komatiites.
Komatiites are useful to geochemists, however, because they do retain fragments of olivine, a magmatic mineral that maintains micron-sized inclusions of solidified magma that were protected from obscuring changes during crystallization. These inclusions can tell scientists vital details about hydrogen in the isotopic state, as well as the chlorine and water contents of komatiitic melts.
So what's new?
A recent study spearheaded by Alexander Sobolev, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, worked with a more high-intensity magma-heating apparatus applied to samples taken from the Barberton greenstone belt in South Africa.
The Barberton belt is believed to be 3.3 billion years old, thus significantly younger than the Abitibi belt, yet relinquishing geochemical information that suggests the aforementioned subterranean reservoir in the Earth's mantle predates the Palaeoarchaean era. This means the water was present 600 million years earlier than has been heretofore believed.

© Copyright 2019 | Interesting Engineering, Inc. | All Rights Reserved.
* * *
    Science Codex / July 23, 2019
    Physicists have let light through the plane of the world's thinnest semiconductor crystal
    Международная группа исследователей из шести стран, включая Россию, изучила распространение фотонов в плоскости самого тонкого в мире полупроводникового кристалла - толщина двумерного слоя диселенида молибдена составила всего один атом. Оказалось, что поляризация света в таком кристалле зависит от направления распространения света, а график распределения поляризации оказался похож на раковину моллюска рапана.
    Результаты работы опубликованы в журнале Nature.

In every modern microcircuit hidden inside a laptop or smartphone, you can see transistors - small semiconductor devices that control the flow of electric current, i.e. the flow of electrons. If we replace electrons with photons (elementary particles of light), then scientists will have the prospect of creating new computing systems that can process massive information flows at a speed close to the speed of light. At present, it is photons that are considered the best for transmitting information in quantum computers. These are still hypothetical computers that live according to the laws of the quantum world and are able to solve some problems more efficiently than the most powerful supercomputers.
Although there are no fundamental limits for creating quantum computers, scientists still have not chosen what material platform will be the most convenient and effective for implementing the idea of a quantum computer. Superconducting circuits, cold atoms, ions, defects in diamond and other systems now compete for being one chosen for the future quantum computer. It has become possible to put forward the semiconductor platform and two-dimensional crystals, specifically, thanks to scientists from: the University of Würzburg (Germany); the University of Southampton (United Kingdom); the University of Grenoble Alpes (France); the University of Arizona (USA); the Westlake university (China), the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and St Petersburg University.
The physicists studied the propagation of light in a two-dimensional crystal layer of molybdenum diselenide (MoSe2) which is only one atom thick - this is the thinnest semiconductor crystal in the world. The researchers found that the polarisation of light propagating in a superfine crystalline layer depends on the direction of light propagation. This phenomenon is due to the effects of spin-orbit interaction in the crystal. Interestingly, as the scientists noted, the graph that shows the spatial distribution of the polarisation of light turned out to be rather unusual - it resembles a multi-coloured marine rapana.
Ultrafine molybdenum diselenide crystals for experiments were synthesised in the laboratory of Professor Sven Höfling at the University of Würzburg. It is one of the best crystal growth laboratories in Europe. Measurements were carried out both in Würzburg and in St Petersburg under the supervision of Alexey Kavokin, professor at St Petersburg University. An important role in the development of the theoretical base was made by Mikhail Glazov. He is a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an employee of the Spin Optics Laboratory at St Petersburg University, and a leading research associate at the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute.
'I foresee that in the near future, two-dimensional monoatomic crystals will be used to transfer information in quantum devices,' said Professor Alexey Kavokin, head of the Spin Optics Laboratory at St Petersburg University. 'What classic computers and supercomputers take a very long time to do, a quantum computing device will do very quickly. Therein lies the great danger of quantum technologies - comparable to the danger of an atomic bomb. With their help it will be possible, for example, to hack banking protection systems very quickly. That is why today intensive work is under way, including the creation of means of protecting quantum devices: quantum cryptography. And our work contributes to semiconductor quantum technologies.'
Additionally, as the scientist noted, the research was a major step forward in the study of light-induced (i.e. appearing in the presence of light) superconductivity. It is the phenomenon when the materials that allow electric current to pass through have zero resistance. At present, this state cannot be achieved at temperatures above minus 70 C. However, if the proper material is found, this discovery will make it possible to transfer electricity to any point on Earth without any loss, and to create a new generation of electric motors. It should be recalled that in March 2018, the research team of Alexey Kavokin predicted that structures containing superconducting metals, such as aluminium, can help solve the problem. Nowadays, scientists at St Petersburg University are looking for a way to obtain experimental evidence of their theory.

* * *
    Anadolu Agency / 26.07.2019
    Turkey, Russia dig deep to study Siberian pre-history
    Turkish and Russian scientists have started common excavations to unearth Siberian prehistory and Turkish history.
    • Fatih Hafız Mehmet
    Археологи из Университета Девятого сентября (Турция) и Иркутского государственного университета начали совместные раскопки в районе между реками Енисей и Лена с целью изучения происхождения тюркских племен.

Turkish and Russian scientists are studying the prehistoric period of Siberia through joint excavations.
Experts from Turkey's Dokuz Eylul University and Russia's Irkutsk State University are heading excavations being carried out between Yenisei and Lena Rivers.
The Siberia Research Project was started recently in order to access new information on the archaeology of Siberian prehistory, which is not well known.
Semih Guneri, head of the Caucasia and Central Asia Archaeology Research Center of Dokuz Eylul University, told Anadolu Agency, the project aims to understand the earliest era of the region's archaeology and Turkish history in the Far East. He said the joint effort with Irkutsk University was agreed upon after several meetings since 2017.
The region's archaeology is drawing the attention of Westerners in the last two decades, however, the difficult land conditions deter the researchers, Guneri said.
Guneri said two Turkish PhD candidates who are accompanying him have started common excavations with Russian researchers in the area.
"Our work is not easy at all. In August, the temperature will fall below zero in the evening," he said.
Guneri added that their work in Angara-Baikal area, which will last for 12 weeks, has started.

Anadolu Agency © 2019.
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