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‘Very High Risk’ Two Large Pieces Of Space Junk Will Collide This Week

A defunct Russian satellite and a spent Chinese rocket just floating around high over Earth could smash into each other within a few days, potentially creating a big mess in orbit with potentially dire long-term consequences.

LeoLabs, which tracks space debris, put out the alert on Tuesday warning that the two large hunks of junk will come within 25 meters of each other and have up to a twenty percent chance of colliding Thursday evening.

That’s considered way too close for comfort by space standards. The two objects have a combined mass of 2,800 kilograms and if they were to smash into each other, the “conjunction” could create thousands of new pieces of space junk that would put actual functioning satellites at risk.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who keeps a close eye on objects in orbit, identified the old crafts as the Russian Parus navigation satellite that launched in 1989 and a Chinese ChangZheng-4c rocket stage that’s been adrift since 2009.

McDowell noted on Twitter that the altitude where the objects are located is also frequented by “lots of large objects” and that a collision would be “very bad.”

There has been a growing concern among astronomers and others in the space community lately about the accelerating proliferation of space debris. The more objects there are orbiting Earth, the higher the risk of collisions. More collisions also increases the risk of future collisions further in a feedback loop that could end in a scenario known as “Kessler Syndrome,” in which access to space becomes too dangerous.

This could be jumping the gun a bit, but with thousands of satellites headed to orbit as part of SpaceX’s Starlink and other planned mega-constellations, this week’s alert could be something that becomes routine in the not too distant future.

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‘Real and imminent’ extinction risk to whales

Humpback whale
A humpback whale jumps to the surface of the Pacific Ocean

More than 350 scientists and conservationists from 40 countries have signed a letter calling for global action to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises from extinction.

They say more than half of all species are of conservation concern, with two on the “knife-edge” of extinction.

Lack of action over polluted and over-exploited seas means that many will be declared extinct within our lifetimes, the letter says.

Even large iconic whales are not safe.

“Let this be a historic moment when realising that whales are in danger sparks a powerful wave of action from everyone: regulators, scientists, politicians and the public to save our oceans,” said Mark Simmonds.

The visiting research fellow at the University of Bristol, UK, and senior marine scientist with Humane Society International, has coordinated the letter, which has been signed by experts across the world.

Growing threats

“Save the whales” was a familiar green slogan in the 1970s and 1980s, part of a movement that helped bring an end to commercial whaling.

While stricken populations in most parts of the world have had a chance to recover from organised hunting, they are now facing myriad threats from human actions, including plastic pollution, loss of habitat and prey, climate change and collisions with ships.

By far the biggest threat is becoming accidently captured in fishing equipment and nets, which kills an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises a year.

Rally in Mexico to draw attention to the vaquita
Rally in Mexico to draw attention to the vaquita

Hundreds of scientists have expressed the same concern – that we are moving closer to a number of preventable extinctions. And unless we act now, future generations will be denied the chance to experience these intelligent social and inspiring creatures.

They point to the decline of the North Atlantic right whale, of which only a few hundred individuals remain, and the vaquita, a porpoise found in the Gulf of California, which may be down to the last 10 of its kind.

And they say it is almost inevitable that these two species will follow the Chinese river dolphin down the path to extinction. The dolphin, also known as the baiji, was once a common sight in the Yangtze River but is now thought to have died out.

The letter, which has been signed by experts in the UK, US, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil, among others, points out that these “dramatic” declines could have been avoided, but that the political will has been lacking.

Dr Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society said she signed the letter to help scientists raise these issues more widely.

“It is critical that governments develop, fund, and implement additional needed actions to better protect and save these iconic species – so they don’t end going the way of the baiji,” she told BBC News.

Dolphin chasing sardines off South Africa
Dolphin chasing sardines off South Africa

The scientists say that more than half of the 90 living species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, are of conservation concern, and

Bangor University: 200 jobs at risk of redundancy

The main college at Bangor UniversityImage copyright
David Stowell/Geograph

Image caption

There has been a university in Bangor since 1884

Up to 200 jobs are at risk of redundancy at Bangor University.

The university has announced plans to save £13m after “an anticipated fall in income, mainly related to international student recruitment”.

According to trade unions, 120 support staff and 80 academic jobs are at risk.

Last month the university entered a period of consultation and has now shared its proposals for a restructure with staff.

The university said it hoped to “emerge from Covid-19 stronger and as a leading force in higher education”.

A spokesperson said: “With our nationally recognised gold rating for teaching excellence students are at the heart of the university.

“Our priority in any changes will be to ensure that their experience is not only protected but enhanced.

“Whilst this is a period of significant challenge, it also provides an opportunity to innovate and emerge from Covid-19 stronger and as a leading force in higher education and the economy of north Wales and beyond.

“Up to 200 full-time equivalent staff posts are at risk of redundancy.”

‘Shedding staff for three years’

But trade unions say the scale of cuts will damage Bangor’s level of student support and welfare and academic reputation.

Unison, UCU and Unite have criticised what is a third round of job cuts in the last three years.

Christine Lewis, Unison Bangor branch secretary, said: “Bangor University is rushing into redundancies without waiting until we know how many domestic and overseas students are going to be here next year.

“University executives have been shedding staff for three years and they still haven’t achieved financial stability.

“Why isn’t Bangor saying ‘let’s put people before buildings’ and see if sensible saving can be made elsewhere first before axing dedicated staff?”

Daryl Williams, Unite regional officer, said: “Another round of cuts will hit staff morale at a time when people are working flat out to cope with Covid.”

Bangor University UCU president Dyfrig Jones said: “Universities are organisations which are largely reliant on intellectual capital to deliver services.

“Making staff redundant during a pandemic when the university needs to draw on the intellectual capital of staff to deliver blended learning and support students seems very short-sighted.”

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