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Key radar fails on $1 billion NASA satellite monitoring climate change

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A 127-foot (39 meter) rocket built and flown by United Launch Alliance blasts off at 6:22 a.m. PST (14:22 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in this January 31, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Gene Blevins/Files

A key instrument on a $1 billion NASA satellite has failed, reducing scientists’ ability to capture data to measure the moisture in Earth’s soil in order to improve flood forecasting and monitor climate change, officials said on Thursday.

A second instrument remains operational aboard the 2,100-pound (950-kg) Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, though its level of detail is far more limited.

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The satellite’s high-powered radar system, capable of collecting data in swaths of land as small as about 2 miles (3 km) across, failed in July after less than three months in operation, NASA said. The cause of the failure is under investigation.

Launched in January, SMAP was designed to spend at least three years in orbit, taking measurements on the amount of water in the upper two inches (5 cm) of the Earth’s soil.

Scientists had hoped to combine SMAP’s high-resolution measurements with data from the lower-resolution instrument to get a better understanding of how much water, ice and slush is in the planet’s top soil.

“The project will do all it can to meet the expectations of the science community,” lead researcher Dara Entekhabi, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Reuters in an email.

He said scientists would rely on advanced data processing, coupled with other data from the mission, to help fill in gaps.

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“What I will miss most about the SMAP radar is the opportunity for chance discovery. It was unique among the other instruments in orbit now because it provided frequent microwave mapping of the Earth’s surface,” he said.

Efforts to troubleshoot the problem were not successful, and NASA this week declared the radar system failed.

Overall, soil moisture accounts for less than 1 percent of the planet’s total water reservoir, with 97 percent in the planet’s oceans and nearly all of the rest locked in ice, Entekhabi told reporters before SMAP’s launch in January.

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Currently, scientists estimate soil moisture using computer modeling.

The tiny amount of soil moisture links Earth’s environmental systems – its water, energy and carbon cycles – as well as determining whether particular regions are afflicted with drought or flooding.

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“It’s the metabolism of the system,” Entekhabi said in January.


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The Arab uprisings were weakened by online fakes

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The Arab uprisings a decade ago were supercharged by online calls to join the protests -- but the internet was soon flooded with misinformation, weakening the region's cyber-activists.

When Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January 2011, rumours and uncertainty created "panic and hysteria", said ex-activist and entrepreneur Houeida Anouar.

"January 14 was a horrible night, so traumatic," she said. "We heard gunfire, and a neighbour shouted 'hide yourselves, they're raping women'."

As pro-regime media pumped out misinformation, the flood of bogus news also spread to the internet, a space activists had long seen as a refuge from censorship and propaganda.

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Dr. Fauci warns of post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 surge in US

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The United States is the worst-affected country, with 266,074 Covid-19 deaths, and President Donald Trump's administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus.

"There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union."

Travel surrounding Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday made this the busiest week in US airports since the pandemic began.

"We may see a surge upon a surge" in two or three weeks, Fauci added. "We don't want to frighten people, but that's the reality."

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Sidney Powell’s new election lawsuit cites election experts she won’t even name: legal expert

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President Donald Trump's former election lawyer, Sidney Powell, has filed her lawsuit in Georgia suing Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) for what she says is a fraudulent election.

But lawyer Mike Dunford explained that it doesn't exactly work that way. Reading through Powell's court document "Emergency Motion for Declaratory, Emergency, and Permanent Injunctive Relief and Memorandum in Support Thereof."

"If you want emergency relief it is very helpful to be as clear and concise as humanly possible," he explained. "Pointing the court back to your 100+ page complaint with its 29 exhibits isn't how that is best done. To put it very mildly."

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