Does Location Matter?

Roque de los Muchachos Observatory - Wikipedia

Mountain tops are great locations for building observatories. Astronomers need clear skies in order to observe the stars and cosmos. Observatories at a higher elevation are above a certain level of atmosphere. Sometimes clouds interfere with telescope viewing and images. High mountain tops are above the clouds and provide clean, dry, and less turbulent air. There is less water vapor at a higher elevation, minimizing the light distortion or twinkling of the stars. When selecting a site for a mountain top observatory, there are some important factors that must be considered. As mentioned earlier altitude and dry climate are necessary for clean images and observing. Light pollution is the excessive use of artificial lighting. When this light is inefficiently used, it creates a sky glow that prevents astronomers from clearly viewing the sky. It is important to pick a location that is far from urban cities and relatively free of artificial light.

The installation of the world’s largest telescope in Hawaii has been debated for years. Officials argue that Mauna Kea is the ideal location for this project. Building the telescope on this site is extremely controversial and is not supported by Native Hawaiians as they consider Mauna Kea sacred and have protested to prevent the project from going forward. The backup location for the telescope is on a mountain top in La Palma, part of the Spanish Canary Islands. The cost of operating a telescope in Spain would be much lower as the peak is at a lower elevation. There is a greater public agreement for the telescope to be built there. However, there are environmental organizations that have opposed the TMT and have successfully managed to delay the building permit. The area claimed by TMT is a conservation site containing important archaeological artifacts. While many officials agree that La Palma is an ideal backup location, astronomers disagree.

Astronomers argue that the telescope will not be high above the atmosphere making it harder to view the galaxies and exoplanets. Dry conditions will not be as frequent compromising the view of galaxies and planets whose lights have shifted wavelengths due to the expansion of the universe. The Gran Telescopio Canarias, currently the world’s largest telescope is located on this site and has successfully aided observations and produced images even in the mid-infrared. Despite all the advantages and the cost-benefit analysis, astronomers and officials still remain disputed about the location of the telescope. There are many environmental and geopolitical factors affecting this project. The TMT can revolutionize astronomical research, but at what cost?

Debating the TMT

Hawaiʻi Telescopes Employ Hundreds, Critics Say Astronomy Not Big ...

The quest to build the largest telescope in the world has reshaped the future of Mauna Kea and astronomy. Mauna Kea has a total of 13 telescopes, but in order to build the giant Thirty Meter Telescope, four of these telescopes must be removed before construction. Mauna Kea, 4200 meters high, is viewed as an ideal location for large telescopes and astronomical research. The 10-meter Keck telescopes, 8-meter-class Subaru and Gemini North telescopes are erected on this sacred site. The $1.5 billion TMT project has been paused for what is now the biggest controversy in astronomy. 

While astronomers view Mauna Kea as a perfect location for astronomical viewing, Native Hawaiians view it as very sacred. Mauna Kea is of great cultural significance to Native Hawaiians as it represents the birth of the Hawaiian Islands from earth mother and sky father.  Some Native Hawaiians believe the TMT disregards the spirit of the mountain and also damages the environment. Construction on the telescope began in April 2015 and was immediately stopped by demonstrators who blocked entrances to the summit. 

Proponents of the TMT have organized educational outreach projects such as scholarship funds to increase the representation of future scientists and engineers from Hawaii. While many Native Hawaiians are protesting the TMT project, there are some in favor as well. Alexis Acohido believes that the plan to build the TMT should continue forward as it would help create opportunities for students in Hawaii. While she supports the TMT she strongly believes that “it’s important to uphold your cultures and traditions, but I also think it’s important to pick your battles’.  

Opponents of the TMT, like Managuil, have a childhood connection to Mauna Kea. He describes the mountain as the “oldest sibling that watches over all of us”. Managuil hopes to see the mountain free of telescopes one day. Telescopes will no longer be allowed to operate after 2033 which is when their lease expires. He believes the telescopes should all be removed to return the mountain back to its natural state. 

Native Hawaiians who are protesting the construction are not against astronomy, they just have the right to decide what happens to their land. While they believe in the development of science, they also want scientists to respect their sacred sites. 

We are not prepared for a climate disaster

The world is currently experiencing a collective catastrophe. The way we dealt with the recent pandemic has already shown that we were unprepared to face this situation. While the Earth seems to be healing itself from the effects of human capitalism, the dangers of climate change are still lurking. If anything, this pandemic has proved to us that our priorities need to be reevaluated. The coronavirus has affected millions of people throughout the world, but this doesn’t make us immune to impending climate catastrophes. 

In recent years the US has experienced an increase in flooding, hurricanes, and fires. Climate change has enabled the likelihood of a climate disaster striking the globe. With the coronavirus on the rise, the effects are only intensified. Fires are larger and harder to tame, hurricanes are stronger and rainfall is on the rise. While these disasters could have been mitigated in the past, the presence of the coronavirus has made it very difficult to even come up with preventative strategies. 

Due to the economic strain caused by the virus, state governments are reallocating their priorities and funds away from climate mitigation and disaster management. The virus is the government’s utmost priority right now, but the previous lack of policy and funding has proven to us the importance of climate management. The shift away from climate projects has also compromised the jobs and salaries of many people involved. 

Pollution levels in China

The climate threat is still as urgent as ever before. Recent data has shown us that there has been a notable drop in air pollution in many cities like London, Seoul, and Milan, but this doesn’t mean that sea levels do not continue to rise. San Francisco, one of the first cities to shut down due to the virus has experienced economic pressure. While there are no plans to delay or cancel the sea wall project, the economic strain might lead to a reallocation of financial resources.   

As most cities are entering their peak phase of the virus, hurricane season is also slowly approaching. There is a high chance that a hurricane will make its way toward the US later this year. While public health protocols require us to social distance in order to flatten the curve, this practice will be impossible when thousands of people will be forced to find relief in crowded shelters and arenas. If we have successfully managed to slow down the spread or even possibly eliminate the virus, could this lead to a second wave of cases?  The healthcare system is already overburdened but the impact of a large climate disaster will lead to a collapse. In addition to this, the economic impact of this will be magnified. With millions of Americans already unemployed, a natural disaster will cause these numbers to skyrocket. 

The pandemic is the government’s number one priority right now, which is completely justified, but the long term effects of the virus will have a huge impact on the biological, psychological, and socioeconomic conditions of this country and possibly even the globe. 

Did the Coronavirus come from Space?

There are many absurd conspiracy theories floating around regarding the coronavirus as some people are either in denial or are finding ways to cope with the current situation. Some people just want to be the first to find the cure for the virus or even where it originated from. Among the rampant conspiracy theories is the theory that COVID-19 came from outer space.

Cosmic fragments fall onto the Earth frequently each day. While these fragments are made up of inorganic compounds and contain clues about the origin of the Earth and universe, some scientists believe they contain microbes that cause diseases on Earth.

Panspermia GSS

The scientist behind this theory, Chandra Wickramsinghe, an astronomer and astrobiologist recently suggested that the alien virus had come from space. He believes that the virus originated from a comet and a meteoroid from that comet hit China in 2019. He also extrapolated that this may have been the cause of previous outbreaks. This isn’t the first time Wickramshinge has made this claim. In the past, during the SARS outbreak, he also tried to convince people that his theory was true. In fact, in 1970 he co-authored a book with Fred Hoyle called “Diseases from Space”.

Microbes or viruses could never survive a high impact collision with the Earth after traveling thousands of miles through space. Scientists in China would have probably found a meteorite and swab tested it if this were the case. Even if it was a tiny particle that contained the virus, it would definitely not make it through all the radiation in space and also infect humans. There is just no proof yet to support this claim. The genomic sequence of the virus does not seem like it has extraterrestrial origins since it is in the same family of coronavirus diseases.

Chandra Wickramsinghe is an advocate of panspermia which is the belief that life on Earth did not originate on our planet, instead it was brought to Earth through cosmic particles containing microbes. While this theory seems plausible to some, there is just not enough evidence supporting it.


Shehrbano’s Blog

Most Americans are awaiting their stimulus check. Individuals earning less than $75,000  per year qualify for a $1200 stimulus check. Countries like the UK are giving their citizens 80% of their paychecks and Canada is giving their citizens $2000 per month, which is much more reasonable than the one-time aid package from the US.  While the US stimulus offer already seems meager and unreasonable, there is increased inequality in favor of the wealthy in the United States. Wealthy Americans who may not meet the criteria for the one-time relief check are instead getting an even larger boost. Does that make any sense?

Earlier this month the Senate had passed a $2 trillion coronavirus response bill or the CARES Act to relieve pressure on the American economy. This relief package was aimed to help support individuals and businesses during the current economic standstill. In order to qualify, individuals must be earning under $75,000. This means that a married couple will receive $2,400 collectively, whereas families with their [two] children claimed as dependents will receive $3,400. There is however a disadvantaged group within families. College students who are claimed as dependants will not be receiving a stimulus check. Based on the age requirement college students don’t meet the criteria for the $500 stimulus package for dependants. To qualify as a dependant, the student must be younger than 17 years old. Some high school seniors may also not qualify. 

Millions of Americans who actually need the stimulus check to survive, are receiving an inadequate payment while millionaires who have enough savings to help sustain them during this pandemic are eligible to receive an average of $1.7 million dollars. This is due to a hidden provision in the CARES Act that will cut $80 billion in taxes for some businesses, but 82% of the stimulus relief package will go to millionaires. This means that the average millionaire who owns a business will save over $1.6 million. That’s over 1,000 times more than the $1,200 stimulus check!! 

The CARES act has failed to provide relief to disadvantaged groups. Some individuals that are affected by the pandemic are still awaiting their checks.  Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and are filing for unemployment. It is alarming to see wealthy Americans being prioritized by the CARES Act.