June 08, 2017

"For the first time ever, astronomers have seen a distant star warp the light of another star, making it seem as though the object changed its position in the sky."

The Verge: It’s a huge discovery — since even Albert Einstein didn’t think such a thing would be possible to observe. Now that we’ve proved Einstein wrong (but also right), astronomers hope to spot even more events just like this, as well as use these occurrences to learn more about the stars in our Universe. by Loren Grush

'Einstein first predicted gravitational microlensing in his theory of general relativity. It works kind of like how it sounds: it’s gravity acting like a lens that can manipulate light. Basically, supermassive objects — such as stars and black holes — warp space and time around them. This warped space-time can then act like a magnifying glass, changing the path that light takes through the Universe. Specifically, microlensing can occur when one star — the “source” — passes directly behind another star — the “lens” — along our line of sight from Earth. The gravity from the lens warps the light from the source, making it appear brighter and slightly distorted.

'These events require stars that are very far apart to line up perfectly. That’s why Einstein once wrote that "there is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly." Our telescope technology has become far more sophisticated than in Einstein’s day — which is what allowed us to observe something he thought we’d never see. In 2014, a group of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope spotted a rare type of microlensing, when a dense white dwarf star passed in front of another star thousands of light-years away. The stars weren’t exactly aligned, but they were close enough that the white dwarf made it seem like the background star performed a small loop in the sky. “It looks like the white dwarf pushed it out of the way,” Terry Oswalt, an astronomer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who was not involved in this discovery but wrote a perspective piece in Science, tells The Verge. “That’s not what happened, of course. It just looks like that.”'

"SpaceX will launch the Air Force’s X-37B experimental spaceplane later this year, in the military’s latest vote of confidence in the Elon Musk-led space company."

LA Times: This will be the first time SpaceX has launched the uncrewed robotic vehicle. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., has launched the spaceplane’s previous four missions atop one of its Atlas V rockets. by Samantha Masunaga

'The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which is responsible for the X-37B’s experimental operations, said it was “very excited” for the fifth flight, which will test how special electronics and heat pipes will fare during a long-duration space mission.

'"We look forward to continued expansion of the vehicle's performance and are excited to continue hosting experimental payloads for the space community,” the office’s director, Randy Walden, said in a statement.'

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture rents land from farmers across the country and pays them to grow grass, trees and wildflowers in order to protect the soil and also provide habitat for wildlife."

NPR: It's called the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. Ten years ago, there was more land in the CRP than in the entire state of New York. In North Dakota, CRP land covered 5,000 square miles. by Dan Charles

'But CRP agreements only last 10 years, and when farming got more profitable about a decade ago, farmers in North Dakota pulled more than half of that land out of the CRP to grow crops like corn and soybeans. Across the country, farmers decided not to re-enroll 15.8 million acres of farmland in the CRP when those contracts expired between 2007 and 2014.

'Environmentalist Craig Cox wants this on-again, off-again cycle of land protection to end.

'"One of the fundamental problems is that we're not making lasting change," he says.'

"It's been very windy across Europe this week."

motherboard: So much so, in fact, that the high wind load on onshore and offshore wind turbines across much of the continent has helped set new wind power records. by Chris Baraniuk

'For starters, renewables generated more than half of Britain's energy demand on Wednesday—for the first time ever.

'In fact, with offshore wind supplying 10 percent of the total demand, energy prices were knocked into the negative for the longest period on record. The UK is home to the world's biggest wind farm, and the largest wind turbines, so it's no surprise that this was an important factor in the country's energy mix.

'"Negative prices aren't frequently observed," Joël Meggelaars, who works at renewable energy trade body WindEurope, told Motherboard over the phone. "It means a high supply and low demand."'