China eyes July 20-25 launch for Mars rover

BEIJING, China (AFP) — China’s first Mars rover should launch later this month, authorities said Wednesday, as the country races to catch up with the US dominance of space. The Tianwen-1 Mars rover is scheduled to blast off from Hainan island, off China’s south coast, between July 20 – 25, according to the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. It will be China’s first interplanetary mission, and takes place shortly before the next US Mars rover — […]

France pulls plug on country’s oldest nuclear plant

by Béatrice ROMAN-AMAT Agence France-Presse FESSENHEIM, France (AFP) — France’s oldest nuclear power plant will shut down on Tuesday after four decades in operation, to the delight of environmental activists who have long warned of contamination risks, but stoking worry for the local economy. The Fessenheim plant, opened in 1977 and already three years over its projected 40-year life span, became a target for anti-nuclear campaigners after the catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima in Japan in […]

Israel wields startup tech against coronavirus second wave

by Guillaume Lavallee Agence France-Presse TEL-AVIV, Israel (AFP) — Israel’s armoury in the battle against the novel coronavirus includes thermal cameras scanning crowds and algorithms trawling vast medical databanks for real-time indicators of an infection spike. The Jewish state is enlisting the help of local startups in the hope of stemming a “second wave” of the virus. The chaos of daily life in Israel, or “balagan” as it is known in Hebrew, stands in contrast […]

NASA renames Washington HQ for ‘Hidden Figures’ trailblazer

WASHINGTON D.C., United States (AFP) — NASA said Wednesday that it will rename its Washington headquarters after its first black female engineer, Mary Jackson, whose story was told in the hit film “Hidden Figures.” “Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and […]

‘Mystery object’ in space may be smallest black hole

PARIS, France (AFP) — A mysterious object roughly 800 million light-years from Earth detected using gravitational wave sensors is either one of the smallest black holes or one of the largest neutron stars so far discovered, scientists said on Wednesday. The Advanced Virgo detector at the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) in Italy and two wave observatories in the US discovered the object last year and calculated it to weigh around 2.6 times our own Sun. […]

Amazon pledges $2 billion investment to fight climate change

by Rob Lever Agence France-Presse WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Amazon on Tuesday pledged to invest $2 billion in projects aimed at combatting climate change, stepping up efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the tech giant and others. The Climate Pledge Fund will back efforts by startups and other firms in multiple sectors to “facilitate the transition to a zero carbon economy,” Amazon said in a statement. The initiative “will look to invest in […]

China launches final satellite to complete rival to GPS

BEIJING, China (AFP) — China on Tuesday launched the final satellite in its homegrown geolocation system designed to rival the US GPS network, marking a major step in its race for market share in the lucrative sector. Footage from state broadcaster CCTV of the launch in southwestern Sichuan province showed the rocket blast off against a backdrop of lush mountains as a small group of onlookers filmed on their phones. The launch of the Beidou-3GEO3 […]

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse thrills skywatchers on longest day

HONG KONG, China (AFP) — Skywatchers along a narrow band from west Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Far East witnessed a dramatic “ring of fire” solar eclipse Sunday. So-called annular eclipses occur when the Moon — passing between Earth and the Sun — is not quite close enough to our planet to completely obscure sunlight, leaving a thin ring of the solar disc visible. They happen every year or two, and can […]

Case cracked: mystery Antarctica fossil is massive prehistoric egg

by Sara HUSSEIN Agence France-Presse TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — Scientists had nicknamed it “The Thing” — a mysterious football-sized fossil discovered in Antarctica that sat in a Chilean museum awaiting someone who could work out just what it was. Now, analysis has revealed the mystery fossil to be a soft-shelled egg, the largest ever found, laid some 68 million years ago, possibly by a type of extinct sea snake or lizard. The revelation ends nearly […]

Robots: allies during virus crisis, enemies later?

by Pierrick YVON Agence France-Presse PARIS, France (AFP) — When human contact needs to be kept to a minimum, robots can save lives and factories. But when the coronavirus crisis is over, will they amplify job losses? It may be a mechanised arm pulling beers in a Seville bar, a dog-like dispenser of hand sanitiser in a Bangkok mall, a cooler on wheels that delivers groceries in Washington, or a vaguely humanoid greeter at a […]

Scooters, e-bikes gain traction as virus lockdowns ease

by Rob Lever WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Electric bikes and scooters, dismissed before the pandemic as a curiosity or nuisance, are getting fresh traction in cities seeking new transportation options as they emerge from lockdowns. Some “micromobility” operators which cut back or shut down during the coronavirus lockdowns are now expanding to meet growing demands. Shared mobility operators Lime, Bird, and Ford-owned Spin report robust growth in cities worldwide, despite a near-shutdown of tourism, […]

Germany eyes ‘world number one’ spot in green hydrogen

by Tom BARFIELD Agence France-Presse FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) — Germany on Wednesday said it aimed to become the world’s “number one” in green hydrogen technology, betting the fuel produced by renewable energy sources can both reduce carbon emissions and stimulate Europe’s top economy. “For reasons related to our competitiveness but above all to reach our ambitious climate goals”, ministers have agreed to pump nine billion euros ($10.2 billion) of government cash into the technology, Economy […]