TIME space

ISS Astronauts Do Their Third Spacewalk in Eight Days

They were helping to set up antenna that future space taxis will use to dock with the ISS

Two U.S. astronauts left the International Space Station on Sunday for a spacewalk — the third time they had left the orbiting station in just over a week.

This time, station commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts were preparing berthing docks for space taxis being developed by Boeing and SpaceX, reports Reuters.

Their job was to rig more than 122 meters of cables for two sets of antennas that the new vehicles will use as navigation tools before they dock at the station. The mission was completed after just 5.5 hours, less than the seven hours originally planned on.

After the spacewalk, Virts found a small amount of water inside his helmet but said it didn’t pose a risk to his safety.

[Reuters]

TIME Accident

Watch a Dramatic Water Rescue Captured on an Officer’s Body Camera

A car lies upside down in a creek and water is pouring in

A video released by the Dallas Police Department shows a dramatic rescue of a motorist trapped upside down in his car as seen through an officer’s body camera.

In the very dark, shaky footage officers from the Southeast Crime Response Team come to the aid of a driver who had lost control of his car and plunged some 50ft into a creek on Feb. 6.

The vehicle was found on its roof with water pouring in fast.

“We’re gonna get you out of there,” shouts one officer. And thankfully, they do.

TIME desalination

This Plant in Dubai Makes Half a Billion Gallons of Fresh Water a Day

With 1.8 billion people projected to live in areas afflected by water scarcity by 2025, TIME visits the Jebel Ali plant in the United Arab Emirates where ocean desalination is getting a fresh look.

It’s in your clothes and your food, the appliances in your home and the electricity that powers them. It’s in television and the Internet and the air. It’s in us—or more precisely, we’re it, given that about 60% of our bodies is made of it. To call water the basis of life doesn’t give credit enough, yet we often treat it like an afterthought. Until it’s gone.

Already 1.2 billion people, nearly a sixth of the world’s population, live in areas afflicted by water scarcity, and that figure could grow to 1.8 billion by 2025. Globally, the rate of water withdrawal—water diverted from an existing surface or underground source—increased at more than twice the rate of global population growth over the past century. Climate change could intensify desertification in already dry parts of the planet. The world is projected to hold 9 billion people or more by 2050—and they’ll all be thirsty.

So in 2015 and beyond, the challenge of water scarcity will only grow, which could lead to global instability. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Efficiency can stretch existing supplies (in the U.S., overall water use has fallen even as the population has grown). And an old technology, ocean desalination, is getting a fresh look as high-tech plants churn out millions of gallons of freshwater a day. The Jebel Ali plant in the United Arab Emirates, shown in this photo essay, can produce 564 million gallons (2.13 billion L) of water a day from the sea, a sign of the sheer scale that may be needed in a drier future. The truth is that we can do anything with water—except go on without it.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Physics

Watch Droplets Bounce Off Amazing New Water-Repellent Metal

The laser-etched material is more effective than traditional hydrophobic chemical coatings.

Scientists have used lasers to create a water-repelling metal surface that acts like a trampoline for water droplets.

Researchers at the University of Rochester, who published an article in the Journal of Applied Physics this week, used lasers to etch micro- and nanoscale structures into a metal surface that make it almost completely water-repellent, or hydrophobic.

The material could have a transformative impact on everything from aviation to sanitation, Chunlei Guo, a professor of optics and co-author of the study said in a press release and accompanying explanatory video. Airplane surfaces, for example, could use the material to repel water and prevent surface freezing.

The metal surface is more effective than traditional chemical-based surfaces like Teflon and, because it’s a structural alteration, doesn’t wear off.

“The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off,” Guo said in a statement. “Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface.”

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Odds For Life on Mars Tick Up—a Little

High-tide: layering in a Mars rock photographed by Curiosity suggests the movement of long-ago water
NASA/JPL High-tide: layering in a Mars rock photographed by Curiosity suggests the movement of long-ago water

New findings about both methane and water boost the chances for biology

September of 2013 was a bad time for those who hope there’s life on Mars. We’ve had evidence for decades that water flowed freely across the surface of the Red Planet billions of years ago, and that evidence has only gotten stronger and stronger the closer we look. Not only was there potentially life-giving water back then: Mars also had the right kind of geology to support mineral-eating microbes. And while all of that was in the distant past, the detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere by Earth-based telescopes and Mars orbiters raised hopes that bacteria might still be thriving below the surface—not unreasonable, both because all manner of Earthly critters do perfectly well below-ground and because the vast majority of methane in our own atmosphere results from biological activity. Mars’s methane might come from a similar source.

But when the Curiosity rover sniffed the Martian air directly last year, it smelled…nothing. At most, there were just three parts per billion (ppb) of methane wafting around, and possibly much less than that. “We kind of thought we’d closed that chapter,” says Christopher Webster of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for the instrument that did the sniffing. “A lot of people were very disappointed.”

Not any more, though. Just weeks after that dismal reading, Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) picked up a whiff of methane at a concentration of 5.5 parts per billion. “It took us by surprise,” says Webster, and over the next two months, he says, “every time we looked there was methane. Indeed, the concentrations even rose, to an average of 7.2 ppb over that period, he and his colleagues report in a new paper in Science.

And then, six weeks later, the methane was gone, and hasn’t been sniffed since. “It’s a fascinating episodic increase,” Webster says.

What he and his colleagues can’t say is where the methane is coming from. Because it’s transient, they think it’s probably from a fairly local source. But whether it’s biological or geological in origin, they don’t know. It’s wise to be cautious, however, says Christopher Chyba, a professor of astrophysics and international affairs at Princeton. “Hopes for biology on Mars have had a way of disappearing once Martian chemistry has been better understood. But figuring out what’s responsible for the methane is clearly a key astrobiological objective—whatever the answer turns out to be.”

That’s not the only important Mars-related paper in Science this week, either. Another, also based on Curiosity observations, concerns Mars’s long-lost surface water, and one of the most important points is that there’s a lot more of it left than most people realize—”enough,” says Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Paul Mahaffy, lead author of the paper, “to cover the surface to a depth of 50 meters [about 165 ft].” That doesn’t mean it’s accessible: it’s nearly all locked up in ice at the planet’s poles, but some is also entrained in the clay Curiosity dug into when it was prowling the Yellowknife Bay area of Gale Crater.

Some of that water, says Mahaffy, is tightly chemically bound to the clay and is not a big player in Mars’s modern environment. Some is not quite so locked down and has been interacting with the tenuous Martian atmosphere for the past three billion years. The hydrogen in Martian water, as in Earthly water, may contain both a single proton and a single electron, or a proton and electron plus a neutron—so-called heavy hydrogen, or deuterium. As the Martian atmosphere has thinned over the eons, the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium in the water has gradually been dropping, as the lighter version escapes more easily into space. Since the modern water is twice as rich in deuterium as the water from billions of years ago, that suggests that there was about twice as much surface water in total at the earlier time, but its hydrogen residue has vanished.

“That’s a fair bit of water,” says Mahaffy, “but it’s a lower limit. There could be much more beneath the surface today that we haven’t seen. It was a really interesting time. There were a lot of aqueous processes going on, and a lot of flowing water.”

Where there is (or was) water, there could be (or could have been) life. For Mars enthusiasts, that’s why December of 2014 is a lot better than September of 2013.

TIME space

You Can Quit Thanking Comets for Your Water

Comet 67P: Does this thing look like it could quench your thirst?
ESA Comet 67P: Does this thing look like it could quench your thirst?

A new finding from the Rosetta spacecraft upsets a longstanding theory

There was no shortage of drama when the European Space Agency’s probe Philae set down on a comet last month—the first such landing in history. First Philae bounced, then it bounced again, ending up with one of its three legs sticking up in the air, and in the shadow of a cliff that prevented its solar panels from recharging its batteries. For two days, the probe hurried to complete whatever science it could….and then everything went black.

But that hardly spelled the end of the mission. Philae’s mother ship, Rosetta, has continued to orbit comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, as it’s been doing since August, taking measurements and images of unprecedented quality. And with nearly a year of close-up observations to go, Rosetta has already come up with one result, described in a new paper in Science, that chief scientist Matt Taylor, of the European Space Agency, labeled “fantastic”: Earth’s oceans, the scientists have concluded, were evidently not created by impacts from comets rich with water ice, despite earlier evidence to the contrary. “We have to conclude instead,” said lead author Kathrin Altwegg, a planetary scientist at the University of Bern, at a press conference, “that the water came from asteroids.”

That’s a big reversal from what scientists were thinking just a few years ago. Back in 2011, the European Herschel space telescope took a hard look at Comet Hartley 2 and determined that its own cache of water, detected as vapor boiling away as Hartley approached the Sun, had a chemical composition very similar to what we see on Earth. It’s all H2O, but some of the H is a rare form of hydrogen known as deuterium, whose atoms carry not just a proton like the ordinary stuff, but a neutron as well. Water molecules made with deuterium are known as “heavy water,” and about three in a thousand water molecules on Earth’s surface are the heavy kind.

Measurements of Halley’s Comet back in the mid-80’s showed a deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio about twice that high, which argued against the idea that comets delivered water to a bone-dry Earth early in the Solar System’s history. But Halley’s came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical swarm of proto-comets orbiting at the far edges of the Solar System. Hartley 2 came from the Kuiper Belt of comets, which lies just beyond Neptune–not exactly nearby, but a whole lot closer. Given what Herschel found at Hartley 2, it appeared that Kuiper belt comets are chemically different from those that hail from the Oort cloud. If so, our water could have cometary origins after all.

The new results from Rosetta say no: Comet 67P, which also comes from the Kuiper belt, has an even greater proportion of heavy water than Halley’s and other Oort cloud objects. Even if significant numbers of comets do have Earthlike water, some clearly don’t—and even a relative few would have made Earth’s proportion of heavy water higher than it is. It’s arguable that 67P is pretty much unique among its Kuiper Belt brethren in having so much deuterium. “That’s not impossible,” said Altwegg dubiously “but….”

If comets didn’t bring us water, and if the Earth was too hot in its youth to hold on to what surface water it might have started out with, there’s still one plausible water carrier. “Today, said Taylor at the press conference, “we know asteroids have very little water, but that was probably not always the case.” The solar system was bombarded by asteroids early in its history, and if they were indeed wetter than they are now, that explains where the water in our oceans, in our seltzer bottles, in our bodies and everywhere else comes from.

Important as this new finding is, it’s likely to be only the first of many Rosetta will make as it rides along with 67P for the next year or so, watching carefully as the warming rays of the Sun bring the comet to life. “It’s a nice start to the science phase of the mission,” Taylor said.

And if you think you’ve heard the last of the Philae lander, think again. Mission controllers are still trying to pinpoint Philae’s precise location on 67P’s surface. That will allow scientists to do at least one more experiment: they’ll send radio pings from Rosetta through body of the comet to bounce off Philae and back to Rosetta. By examining how the radio beams are altered en route, they will be able to figure out whether 67P’s insides are rock-solid or held together relatively loosely.

Locating Philae would also allow scientists to calculate whether the lander might be brought back from the dead six months from now. It’s just possible, said Taylor, that a change in 67P’s orientation could bring Philae back into the sunlight, allowing its solar panels to recharge its batteries. If that happens, the prospects for extraordinary science from this already wildly successful mission will be even greater.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 14

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Superfast quantum computers could drastically change the future, and Microsoft might build the first one.

By Tom Simonite in MIT Technology Review

2. Water-smart urban design can reimagine life in Western cities suffering the worst drought in decades.

By Reed Karaim in JSTOR Daily

3. The new censorship: How intimidation, mass surveillance, and shrinking resources are making the press less free.

By George Packer in the New Yorker

4. A new approach to housing for families at risk that includes intensive, wrap-around services is showing early success.

By Mary Cunningham, Maeve Gearing, Michael Pergamit, Simone Zhang, Marla McDaniel, Brent Howell at the Urban Institute

5. Our best bet in the fight against Boko Haram might be sharing lessons on intelligence gathering.

By Jesse Sloman at Africa in Transition

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Bill Gates has some notes for Thomas Piketty: Tackle income inequality by taxing consumption, not capital.

By Bill Gates in Gates Notes

2. Thousands have died as Central African Republic slides toward civil war, but media coverage is scant. Is there an empathy gap?

By Jared Malsin in the Columbia Journalism Review

3. Europe’s apprentice model isn’t a perfect fit for U.S. manufacturing, but it could change the way we train a new generation of blue-collar workers.

By Tamar Jacoby in the New America Foundation Weekly Wonk

4. Ebola may be gruesome but it’s not the biggest threat to Africa.

By Fraser Nelson in the Guardian

5. In dry California, regulators are using an innovative pricing scheme to push conservation.

By Sarah Gardner at Marketplace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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