Felix Baumgartner jumps from stratosphere, breaks sound barrier

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, aged 43, performed a jump Sunday from 39km above the Earth’s surface using a full-pressure suit, a parachute canopy, a capsule, and a helium balloon. Baumgartner broke the sound barrier as his top speed reached 1342km/h (834 miles per hour), exceeding the speed of sound, and landed in the New Mexico desert, United States.

The jump follows several days of waiting for atmospheric winds to decrease to make sure the jump would be safe, and the capsule would not be blown away.

Felix Baumgartner, Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper.

A balloon with 850ML (30 million cubic feet) of helium took over two hours to lift the Red Bull Stratos capsule to a 39km altitude in the stratosphere, 2km higher than expected, breaking a 1961 manned balloon record of 34.7 km (113,740 feet).

While the capsule ascended, a helmet faceplate heater failed. Exhalation fogged the faceplate and affected vision. Baumgartner proceeded with the jump anyway.

Felix Baumgartner on the Edge of Space.

Baumgartner jumped with his head down to increase speed. A quick jump was essential to minimise the risk of spinning out of control which could make the skydiver lose consciousness.

Baumgartner’s suit was equipped with devices to document the jump, including a camera. They also included tools to measure altitude, speed and location, and to report them to the mission control center.

After the successful jump, Baumgartner said, “When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive. … Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are”.

The project was sponsored by Austrian Red Bull energy drinks company.



USA raises tariffs on inexpensive Chinese solar panels

This Wednesday, the United States Department of Commerce issued a ruling to set tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels ranging from 18% to 250% for different solar panels manufacturers. China protested against the new tariffs on Thursday claiming that they make export of solar panels to the USA unprofitable.

Solar Panel

A US-German company SolarWorld and a group of other companies complained and initiated the tariffs change. Some manufacturers claimed China’s subsidies are an unfair advantage for the Chinese solar panel manufacturers, and challenged whether China’s economy is a free market.

Wang Shuai, a spokesman for the Yingli solar energy company, commented that 30% tariffs are unprofitable. He claimed that in the solar industry, gross profit margins are about 10 percent. “A tax rate of 30 percent is the same as 200 percent. Both of them mean the door is closed for exporting to the United States. No one does business to lose money.”

The tariffs would not go into effect until the International Trade Commission confirms the Chinese pricing hurts the U.S. solar industry.

The tariffs occur as the Chinese solar panel manufacturers have reported losses this year of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to AP.

Electric vehicles can be less green than classic fuel cars, Norwegian study finds

A Norwegian University of Science and Technology study released Thursday found electric vehicles have a potential for higher eco-toxicity and greenhouse impact than conventional cars. The study includes an examination of the electric car’s life cycle as a whole rather than a study of the electric car’s environmental impact during the use phase.

A Nissan Leaf electric car recharging at an on-street public charging station in Amsterdam

The researchers conducted a comparison of the environmental impact of electric cars in view of different ratios of green-to-fuel electricity energy sources. In the case of mostly coal- or oil-based electricity supply, electric cars are disadvantageous compared to classic diesel cars with the greenhouse effect impact being up to two times larger.

The researchers found that in Europe, electric cars pose a “10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles”.

The researchers suggest to improve eco-friendliness of electric vehicles by “reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure” and using the electric cars for a longer time, so that the use phase plays a more important role in the electric vehicle life cycle.


Australian scientists develop culture to destroy reef-killing starfish

Following a study linking poisonous crown-of-thorns starfish to 42 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef destruction in recent decades, James Cook University Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland has developed a culture to destroy the reef-killing starfish, announced yesterday. The researchers have carried out successful trials of the culture against the starfish.

Crown-of-Thorns starfish near Qamea Island in Fiji.
Image: Matt Wright.

The culture is a beef extract similar to Bovril, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) reported.

The culture is expected to replace a manual treatment of the problem, involving a poison injection delivered by a diver to each starfish. One of the researchers, Jairo Rivera Posada, stressed urgency and scale of the threat: “In the current outbreak in the Philippines they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single beach”.

The researchers said the culture infects a starfish with bacteria that kill it within just 24 hours and spread by contact with other individuals of the species. This means divers would need to inject just one starfish to infect and destroy many individuals living close to each other.

The researchers recommended addressing the problems behind starfish outbreaks: “Any attempts to control these outbreaks will be futile without also addressing the root cause of outbreaks, including loss of starfish predators as well as increased nutrients that provide food for larval starfishes” referring to the agricultural run-off along the reef coast.

The researchers concluded the culture works and needs testing of its impact on other sea species.

Moto GP rider Marco Simoncelli dies in 2011 Malaysia Grand Prix

Italy’s Marco Simoncelli, 24, has died after a crash during the second lap of the 2011 Malaysia Moto GP Grand Prix held at the Sepang International Circuit.

While veering accross the track on the exit of turn 11, Simoncelli was hit by the bike of Colin Edwards and fell into the path of Edwards and Valentino Rossi. The other riders were powerless to avoid Simoncelli. Such was the force of the collision, Simoncelli’s helmet was dislodged and bounced several. Fellow rider Casey Stoner said “Whenever the helmet comes off that’s not a good sign.”

Marco Simoncelli (20 January 1987 – 23 October 2011), an Italian motorcycle racer.

Simoncelli lay without moving in the centre of the track, causing the race to be immediately red flagged for safety reasons. When medics arrived, he was in cardiac arrest and they fought to resuscitate him in the ambulance and medical centre. Simoncelli died from his injuries at 16:56 local time.

Known for his aggressive attacking style, Simoncelli had enjoyed a run of success in Moto GP despite his status as a relatively new rider on a satellite bikeand was predicted by many to be a rising star of the sport. His death is a blow to the Moto GP world.

Simoncelli at the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi

The official Moto GP statement is as follows:

“On Sunday, 23 October, during the MotoGP race at the Sepang International Circuit, San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Italian rider Marco Simoncelli suffered a serious accident wherein he sustained critical injuries.

“The race was stopped immediately with the red flag and Simoncelli was transported by ambulance to the circuit medical centre where the medical staff worked to resuscitate him.”

The death is the first in Moto GP since Japan’s Dajiro Kato died in his home race in 2003 and follows the death of Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa in the 2010 inaugral Moto2 season. Edwards also fell from his bike and sustained a dislocated shoulder, Rossi remained onboard.

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