Monday, September 17, 2018

Sunspot Observatory incident shrouded in mystery


David LynchSeptember 16, 2018 03:49 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – After mysterious circumstances closed the Sunspot Solar Observatory in southeast New Mexico on Sept. 6 – prompting conspiracy theories of close encounters and men in black suits – it was announced over the weekend that the facility will "transition back to regular operations" on Monday.


The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy announced the reopening on Sunday, saying it had been cooperating with local authorities on the "investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak," where the observatory is located. The developments come after over a week of minimal details from law enforcement, leading to theories of all kinds from New Mexicans and others across the country.

"We became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents," AURA wrote on its website Sunday. "In light of recent developments…we have determined there is no risk to staff."


Last week, officials with the Otero County Sheriff's Office told KOB they had "no information" on what exactly federal authorities were looking into at the facility, only confirming the FBI was involved.


AURA says that, given the high-profile nature that has surrounded the observatory's closure, security will be present at the facility's reopening.

The group added that remaining tight-lipped about the closure was necessary to protect their investigation's integrity, saying it recognized the frustration that strategy caused.

"Our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation," AURA said. "That was a risk we could not take."

AURA is a collaboration of mostly U.S. institutions, and some international entities, which promotes astronomical research, according to its website. They operate several observatories, including Sunspot.

RELATED VIDEO; MAN WALKS AROUND INSIDE ABANDONED SUNSPOT OBSERVATORY 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Will attacks by killer drones become the new terrorist threat?


THE ATLANTIC: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was intoning something about economic renewal, flanked by his wife and a handful of high officials, in a country gripped by poverty, starvation, and shortages. Then, in a moment broadcast live on television that has since gone viral, his wife’s face changed. For an instant she seemed to duck as she reached for the official next to her; Maduro glanced up with apparent concern. The camera panned to the National Guardsmen in formation on the street before him as dozens suddenly started running. According to the government and witnesses, they had seen explosions in the sky.

By the government’s account, those explosions were part of an attempted assassination by drone—which if correct would be the first instance of such an attack targeting a head of state, and a possible portent of things to come.

The United States pioneered military drones for surveillance and then missile strikes in Afghanistan nearly two decades ago; only a handful of states now have those capabilities. But small, commercially available drones of the kind Venezuela says were used in the attempt have proliferated widely among private actors in recent years. They do not require billions of dollars to procure or runways to take off. They can be used for filming or for delivering commercial products or humanitarian aid. They can just as easily carry explosives.

This technological evolution is typical of terrorist groups’ tactical innovations, which often involve devising low-cost ways to inflict disproportionate damage on a stronger enemy. It’s easier and cheaper, for example, to rig and hide a simple explosive device along a roadside, as various insurgent groups did to devastating effect in Iraq, than it is to find and disarm them, or protect personnel against them. Similarly, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and others have turned everyday technologies—from pressure cookers, to vans, to airplanes—into weapons of war. Commercial drones are just the latest example of a longstanding pattern.

While ISIS’s drone activity has declined with its loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, the problem is not limited to them, nor to the world’s battlefields. In 2015, Reuters reported that a protester flew “a drone carrying radioactive sand from the Fukushima nuclear disaster onto the prime minister’s office, though the amount of radiation was minimal.” Mexican cartels have used drones to smuggle drugs and, in one instance, to land disabled grenades on a local police chief’s property. Last summer, a drone delivered an active grenade to an ammunition dump in Ukraine, which Kyle Mizokami of Popular Mechanicsreported caused a billion dollars’ worth of damage.

That attack was atypical of the damage small commercial drones can cause, as Ulrike Esther Franke, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones, noted in 2016. A U.S. military Reaper drone, she noted, can hover for much of a day carrying 500-pound bombs; the Venezuelan interior minister said that the two drones used in the alleged attack were carrying about two pounds’ worth of plastic explosives. Those explosives caused injuries but no fatalities; still, the stampede that resulted shows the drones’ efficacy in another terror tactic of causing panic disproportionate to the actual damage inflicted. And it doesn’t take much to cause more serious damage; last summer, a commercial drone briefly knocked out power for more than a thousand people when it crashed into an electricity wire in California.


Top U.S. officials, including FBI director Christopher Wray, have warned that America is vulnerable. Washington, D.C., for example, has what Department of Homeland Security officials have called “the most tightly controlled airspace in the country;” it’s illegal to fly drones anywhere in the District. And yet: In 2015, an off-duty government employee managed to crash a drone onto the White House lawn. Last November, a man was able to fly a drone over one football stadium and near another in California, with the aim of dropping political leaflets, despite legal prohibitions against flying drones near such events. (He was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.) Cathy Lanier, the senior vice president and chief security officer for the National Football League, who also served as Washington, D.C.’s chief of police from 2007 to 2017, said that the ability to curb the threat of commercial drones “is very limited right now. The problem is that the popularity is growing exponentially. … How do you identify the nefarious actor from the hobbyist?”


Jaz Banga, the CEO and cofounder of Airspace, a firm that works on air security to counter rogue drones, said “there’s really no comprehensive protection right now across the U.S.” Drones have to be registered to fly—and attach identifiers akin to a license plate—but it can be difficult to discern them in the air. Like the drone that crashed on the White House lawn, they can be too small or too low to spot with radar. And though the technology now exists to identify who is operating a commercial drone, drone operators are not yet required to use it. In the event that a rogue drone is detected, it’s generally illegal to shoot it down; ditto with jamming the radio or WiFi signal controlling it, as the Venezuelans apparently did. And if law enforcement did so anyway, it could pose risks to civilians on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to require identification; other defense measures would require changes to the law.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Will the next Aston Martin fly James Bond?

FLYING:


You haven’t seen Aston Martin’s new Volante Vision in a James Bond movie, at least not yet. In a joint venture with Cranfield University, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and Rolls-Royce Electrical, the luxury car maker recently unveiled drawings of an autonomous hybrid-electric VTOL flying vehicle that Aston Martin believes will operate in either the urban or the intercity travel marketplace. The first concept drawings of the Volante Vision were shown to the public on Monday at the Farnborough Air Show.

The Volante is also expected to bring luxury to the autonomous flying vehicle with items like leather seats. Whether the hybrid vehicle will ever take to the skies is anyone’s guess at the moment since the technology necessary to make the vehicle fly doesn’t really yet exist. Could the motivation to release the Volante concept have anything to do with Aston Martin’s plans to soon create an initial public offering? Aston Martin also recently entered into a partnership with Triton Submarines to create a submersible vehicle.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Novichok spy-poison weapon bottle found in Porton Down home.


BBC: Novichok that poisoned a couple in Wiltshire came from a small bottle found in the home of one of the victims, police say.

A bottle was found in a search at Charlie Rowley's Amesbury house and was tested by scientists at Porton Down, the Metropolitan Police said.

Mr Rowley, 45, remains in hospital in Salisbury in a serious but stable condition after falling ill on 30 June.

His partner Dawn Sturgess, 44, died last weekend.

Scientists at the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory are still trying to establish whether the deadly substance found at Mr Rowley's house came from the same batch of Novichok that contaminated Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.
Cordons remain

Police said they were still trying to find out where the bottle came from, and why it ended up in the house.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing, said it was "clearly a significant and positive development".

"However, we cannot guarantee that there isn't any more of the substance left and cordons will remain in place for some considerable time," he added.

"This is to allow thorough searches to continue as a precautionary measure for public safety and to assist the investigation team."

A spokesman said detectives had spoken to Mr Rowley and were due to speak to him again to establish how he and Ms Sturgess came to be contaminated.

A murder inquiry was started following the death of Ms Sturgess, a mother of three, on Sunday.

The discovery of the bottle comes as the Foreign Office announced independent chemical weapons experts would arrive in the UK next week to assist with the investigation.

Staff from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will travel to the UK to independently confirm the identity of the nerve agent which led to Ms Sturgess's death.

The samples will be analysed at "highly reputable international laboratories designated by the OPCW", a spokesman said.

The discovery of the bottle is a significant moment.

It will help reassure residents in the local area that the risks to their health have been reduced, although the police say they cannot guarantee no more of the substance is left.

And it also may provide a significant piece of evidence in trying to establish how Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley came to be poisoned - and what link there might be with the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The working assumption of police is that the bottle was a container discarded after the March poisoning.

It may now be possible to establish a scientific link by trying to match impurities in both samples of Novichok to see if the nerve agent comes from the same batch.

Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said the discovery of the bottle was "significant and encouraging".

He said private security guards would join officers on some of the cordons from next week, as the investigation continued.

"This will free up some Wiltshire Police officers to get back to supporting day-to-day community policing,"

About 100 detectives from the Counter Terrorism Policing Network are continuing to work on the investigation, alongside colleagues from Wiltshire Police, a spokesman said.

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