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NASA to launch satellite tracking Earth’s melting ice on Saturday

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NASA Earth ICESat 2

Washington, Sep 12: NASA is set to launch its Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2 — that will track Earth’s melting poles and disappearing sea ice — on Saturday.

The satellite with a three-year mission is scheduled to launch at 8.46 a.m. EDT on September 15, with liftoff aboard a Satellite Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-2 (SLC-2), the US space agency said in a blog post late on Tuesday.

ICESat-2 is the NASA’s most advanced laser instrument — the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, or ATLAS.

It measures height by precisely timing how long it takes individual photons of light from a laser to leave the satellite, bounce off Earth and return to the satellite.

The satellite will provide critical observations of how ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice are changing, leading to insights into how those changes impact people where they live, NASA said.

ICESat-2’s orbit will make 1,387 unique ground tracks around Earth in 91 days and then start the same ground pattern again at the beginning.

While the first ICESat satellite (2003-09) measured ice with a single laser beam, ICESat-2 splits its laser light into six beams making it better to cover more ground (or ice).

The arrangement of the beams into three pairs will also allow scientists to assess the slope of the surface they are measuring, NASA said.

Further, the ICESat-2 will zoom above the planet at 7 km per second (4.3 miles per second), completing an orbit around Earth in 90 minutes. The orbits have been set to converge at the 88-degree latitude lines around the poles, to focus the data coverage in the region where scientists expect to see the most changes.

All of those height measurements result from timing the individual laser photons on their 600-mile roundtrip between the satellite and Earth’s surface – a journey that is timed to within 800 picoseconds, NASA said.

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Facebook behaving like ‘digital gangsters’: UK parliamentary report

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London, Feb 18 (IANS) Lashing out at Facebook for behaving like “digital gangsters” in the online world, a UK parliamentary committee concluded that the social networking giant intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.

In its final report on Monday after an 18-month investigation into disinformation and “fake news”, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee of the UK Parliament called for stricter regulation to make Facebook end spread of disinformation on its platform.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use everyday,” Damian Collins, Chair of the DCMS Committee, said in a statement.

The report highlights Facebook documents obtained by the committee relating to a Californian court case brought by US-based app developer Six4Three.

Through scrutiny of internal Facebook emails between 2011 and 2015, the report found evidence to indicate that the company was willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers.

The investigation found that Facebook was willing to charge high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of data, and starve some developers – such as Six4Three – of that data, contributing to them losing their business.

The now-defunct start-up Six4Three alleged that Facebook collected information on users and their friends through its apps.

The report also named Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who refused summons to appear before the committee three times.

“By choosing not to appear before the Committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both the UK Parliament and the ‘International Grand Committee’, involving members from nine legislatures from around the world,” the report said.

“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins said.

Launched in 2017, the inquiry intensified after the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal became public.

In the 108-page report, the UK lawmakers accused Facebook of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights.

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform,” Karim Palant, Facebook’s UK public policy manager, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

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Earth is flat, said YouTube

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San Francisco, Feb 18 (IANS) In a major goof-up, popular video-sharing platform YouTube projected it upon impressionable minds that — the Earth is flat — raising the number of people who now seriously believe the planet to be a flat unending stretch of land, a study said.

The fact which is to the contrary was proved almost five centuries back, when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan famously circumnavigated the Earth from 1519-1522, which would have been impossible if it had had an edge.

However, Google-owned YouTube is now contributing to people believing the Earth is round.

“Their suspicion was raised when they attended the world’s largest gatherings of ‘Flat Earthers’ at the movement’s annual conference in Rayleigh, North Carolina, in 2017, and then in Denver, Colorado, last year,” The Guardian reported late on Sunday.

According to Asheley Landrum, who led the research at Texas Tech University, identified the prime driver for the startling rise in the number of Flat-believers.

A poll conducted by London-based market research company YouGov in 2018 found only two-thirds of young people surveyed, “firmly believed” that the Earth was round.

“Of the 30 people, one said they had not considered the Earth to be flat two years ago but changed their minds after watching videos promoting conspiracy theories on YouTube,” Landrum was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Meanwhile, Google has acknowledged there’s more it can do to combat the spread of false information on YouTube. In January, it outlined new plans designed to push back the false belief, according to the CNET.

The YouTube team in a blog post said: “We’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways — such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”

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Comprehensive plan prepared for BSNL’s revival: Government

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BSNL

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) The government is making all efforts to make state-run BSNL robust and financially viable again and has prepared a comprehensive plan for its revival, an official said on Sunday, on the eve of a nationwide strike called by the employees unions over their demands.

BSNL employees and officers have given a three-day country-wide strike call from February 18 to highlight their long-pending issues, including allotment of 4G spectrum to the telecom major and wage revision for the workforce.

“All efforts are being made, and will continue to be made, to make BSNL robust and financially viable,” a Communications Ministry statement said.

“The main demands of the All India Unions and Associations of Bharat Sanchar Nigam (AUAB) include benefits to executives under the 3rd Pay Revision Committee (PRC) with 15 per cent fitment and to non-executives as per the 8th wage negotiations w.e.f. 1.1.2017, allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL, revision of pension for BSNL retirees w.e.f. 1.1.2017 and delinking of same with pay revision for PRC implementation, and deduction of payment of pension contribution by BSNL on actual basic pay instead of on the highest level of the pay scale.

“Government wishes to re-emphasize that it will continue to engage with the BSNL management and representatives of the unions and associations, to support their reasonable demands, and to guide the organization towards a revival,” it said.

Noting that the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) is taking “positive steps” regarding each of these demands, the ministry said the issue of alloting 4G spectrum to BSNL is being referred to telecom regulator TRAI “to recommend on the issue of administrative allocation, quantum, price and appropriate frequency band”.

“Further action will be taken on receipt of the said recommendation. In parallel, a comprehensive proposal for revival of BSNL has been prepared, which will be taken up for consideration by competent authorities very soon.”

It also noted that a Coordination Committee comprising senior officers of the DoT, BSNL management, and representatives of AUAB is already working in this regard.

“Representatives of AUAB have also held meetings with the DOT Additional Secretary in which they have been duly apprised of the progress being made in relation to their demands,” the statement said.

It pointed out that the BSNL management has appealed to its employees not to resort to any agitation at this critical juncture when the organization is engaged in “sincere and serious efforts” to protect and enhance the company’s market share, “and when any disruption in services can only adversely impact the interests of BSNL and its customers, employees and other stakeholders.”

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