The most-produced tank in World War II was fast, powerful, and well protected by sloped armor, and it was made by a candy maker who got tired of confections and decided to make a revolutionary tank instead.
Willy Wonka, eat your heart out.
The Christie tank designs were ultimately a failure in the U.S., but elements of the company’s designs would become part of dozens of tank designs across Western and Russian militaries.
Mikhail Koshkin was working in a candy factory until he decided that he wanted to study engineering. Thanks to a series of Josef Stalin’s purges, Koshkin quickly found himself at the top of a program to improve the BT tank. The BT tank series was based on the U.S. Christie design and patents that were sold overseas after the Army turned the Christie down.
Stalin, wanting to see whether his armored forces were worth the price tag, wanted to test the new tanks in combat and got his chance in the Spanish Civil War. The BT tanks proved themselves useful but far, far from perfect. Despite thick armor, anti-tank infantry still often held an advantage against them, and the vehicle engines would burst into flame from light hits or, sometimes, simply from the strain of propelling the tank.
The BT tanks were sent back to Russia by rail for analysis and Koshkin and his team quickly found the flaws in design. The improvements program quickly became a replacement program, and Koshkin started working on a new design in 1934 which he would name for that year, the T-34.
It incorporated a number of design changes being flirted with around the world. It wasn’t the first tank with sloped armor or the first with a diesel engine or the first with a large cannon in a rotating turret, but it was a solid design that incorporated all of these evolutions in design. At the same time that he was working on the T-34, Koshkin had to work on a new BT tank design: the A20.
Mikhail Koshkin worked in a candy factory but then decided to become an engineer before World War II. His inspired T-34 tank design would become the most-produced tank of World War II.
(Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau)
The A20 would later become the BT-20. It, too, sported a number of improvements, including sloped armor and an improved engine, but it still had relatively little armor for the crew or engine — as little as 20mm in some places.
Both designs, the T-34 and the BT-20, reached Soviet leaders in 1939. There, the officers sidelined the T-34 in favor of the BT-20, partially because the proposed T-34 design would’ve required much more steel for manufacture and much more fuel to run. A prototype BT-20 was created.
But instead of accepting the defeat of his design, Koshkin wrote a letter to Stalin and continued making tweaks before creating a full prototype. Stalin requested to see the tank, and Koshkin drove it 800 miles to Moscow to show it off. The tank proved itself fast, effective, and well-protected, and so Stalin sent it into production instead of the BT-20.
Koshkin died of pneumonia soon after, but his tank design would go on to become the most-produced tank of World War II. Russia took part in the invasion of Poland, but later found itself attacked by Nazi Germany in June, 1941.
As history shows, the Soviet Union soon found itself in a fight for its very survival during World War II. Tanks and other weapons would be imported from America, but the best homegrown option the Soviet Union had was still, easily, the T-34.
The final design pressed into production featured a 76mm gun capable of taking out anything Germany had to offer, its thick and sloped armor could survive hits from most German tanks at the time, and it was easy to maintain in the field, meaning the T-34s were nearly all available for the fight.
A T-34 tank during battle re-enactments.
(Cezary Piwowarski CC BY-SA 4.0)
When a clash first came between German tanks and the T-34, the Soviet crew surprised the Germans by piercing the German tank in a single shot. German tank crews had convinced themselves that they were nearly invincible until they faced the T-34.
But the Germans had prepared well for the invasion, and they charged east, deep into Russia, overrunning the original T-34 factory and nearly breaching Moscow’s defenses before they were stopped at the final defensive line as the true Russian winter set in.
The relocated T-34 production lines were able to crank out hundreds of copies before the spring thaw, and those tanks were key parts of battles for the coming years. But German tank designs were evolving as well, and the arms race necessitated upgrades to the T-34.
Over 35,000 T-34s were built during the war, with later models featuring upgraded 85mm guns as space for an additional crew member, allowing the tank commander to give up their gunner duties to keep a better eye on what was happening around the vehicle.
A German soldier inspects a Russian T-34 knocked out during combat. T-34s were super powerful upon their debut, but German bombers and artillery were always a threat to them, and later German tank designs like the Tiger could shred the T-34.
The Soviet Union was, eventually, successful in driving the Germans out of Russia and back into Berlin. This success was partially due to America sending so much equipment east as part of lend-lease, partially thanks to the U.S., Britain, and Canada opening a new front with the D-Day invasions, and partially thanks to a candy man who decided to make a world-class weapon of war instead of sweets.
Admit it: You’d watch a Willy Wonka sequel like that.
(Some of the information in this article came from the second episode of Age of Tanks on Netflix. If you have a subscription, you can watch the episode here.)
The US Army is moving forward on next-generation concealment technology to ensure that American soldiers can hide in plain sight.
Fibrotex has built an Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System that can be used to conceal soldier’s positions, vehicles, tanks and aircraft. The new “camouflage system will mask soldiers, vehicles and installations from state-of-the-art electro-optical sensors and radars,” the company said Nov. 8, 2018, in a press release sent to Business Insider.
Fibrotex has been awarded a contract to supply this advanced camouflage to conceal troops from night vision, thermal imaging, radar, and more.
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Soldiers, vehicles, and other relevant systems can just about disappear in snowy, desert, urban, and woodland environments, according to the camouflage-maker.
The new program aims to replace outdated camouflage that protects soldiers in the visible spectrum but not against more advanced, high-end sensors. ULCANS “provides more persistent [infrared], thermal counter-radar performance,” Fibrotex explained.
The Army has awarded Fibrotex a 10-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract valued at 0 million. Full-scale production will begin in 2019 at a manufacturing facility in McCreary County, Kentucky, where the company expects to create and secure hundreds of new jobs in the coming years.
“Today, more than ever, military forces and opposition groups are using night vision sensors and thermal devices against our troops,” Eyal Malleron, the CEO of Fibrotex USA, said in a statement.
“But, by using Fibrotex’s camouflage, concealment and deception solutions, we make them undetectable again, allowing them to continue keeping us safe.”
Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.
Enemies can’t see in, but US soldiers can see out
The result came from roughly two years of testing at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, where new technology was tested against the Army’s most advanced sensors.
Fibrotex noted that the netting is reversible, creating the possibility for two distinctly different prints for varied environments. And while outsiders can’t see through the netting, those on the inside have an excellent view of their surroundings, as can be seen in the picture above.
The new camouflage for troops and vehicles has reportedly been tested against the best sensors in the Army, and it beat them all.
The Mobile Camouflage Solution (MCS) takes concealment to another level, as “the MCS provides concealment while the platform is moving,” the company revealed. Business Insider inquired about the secret sauce to blend in moving vehicles with changing scenery, but Fibrotex would only say that their “technology combines special materials, a unique fabric structure and a dedicated manufacturing process.”
ULCANS and its relevant variants are based on “combat-proven technologies” designed by the Israel-based Fibrotex Technologies Ltd., the parent company for Fibrotex USA, over the past two decades. The company’s products have been specifically modified to meet the needs of the Department of Defense.
“We have more than 50 years of experience, with thousands of hours in the field and a deep understanding of conventional and asymmetric warfare. The U.S. Army tested our best camouflage solutions and the camouflage repeatedly demonstrated the ability to defeat all sensors known to be operating in the battlefield and throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,” Malleron explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Iran’s latest attempt to put a satellite in space in spite of US opposition ended in failure, an Iranian defense ministry official told state media, Reuters reported Sunday.
“It was launched with success and … we have reached most our aims … but the ‘Zafar’ satellite did not reach orbit as planned,” the official told state television Sunday.
The latest failure marks the fourth time in a row Iran has been unable to successfully put a satellite in space.
In January 2019, the Iranian rocket carrying the satellite into space failed to reach the “necessary speed” during the third stage of flight, a senior telecommunications official told state media, the Associated Press reported at the time.
The US has criticized Iran’s efforts, arguing that its satellite program is a cover for the development of long-range ballistic missile technology.
President Donald Trump has said that Iran’s space program could help it “pursue intercontinental ballistic missile capability.” Iran argues that the Simorgh rocket is nothing more than a satellite launch vehicle.
In February of last year, Iran made another attempt. Iran’s foreign minister revealed in an interview with NBC News that it failed as well. He added that his country was looking into the possibility of sabotage after a New York Times report suggested the US could be behind the failures.
Iran tried again in August, but the rocket apparently exploded on the launchpad.
In denying US culpability, Trump inexplicably tweeted out an image of the scorched Iranian launchpad from a classified briefing, a photo that appeared to have come from one of the US’ most secretive spy satellites.
After the second failed test, Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told NPR that this is a “trial and error” situation, explaining that “eventually they’re going to get it right.”
Iran managed to put a satellite into orbit in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but lately their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Technology wasn’t actually the method by which the military tried to create an army of super soldiers. It wasn’t a special armor or a Captain America-like serum either. No, like most harebrained schemes of the Cold War, the military tried to create a kind of “warrior monk soldier” with paranormal abilities that would take on the defense of the United States when technology could not.
The Army and the CIA, it turns out, could spend money on anything.
The Marines got the Warrior Monk anyway.
The First Earth Battalion was more than just a bunch of men staring at goats. The idea was derived from the human potential movement, a counterculture phenomenon of the 1960s which believed humans were not using their full mental and physical capacity in their lives and could thus be and do more when properly trained or motivated. After the end of the Vietnam War, the Army was ready to review how it fought wars and try an approach less focused on filling body bags.
When the Army sent word that it was seeking new ways of fighting and training its soldiers, it was bombarded with suggestions that seemed bogus but had some merit, like sleep learning and mental rehearsal. It was also offered some of the less down-to-earth ideas in American culture. It attempted to create an Army focused on unleashing the human potential locked within the bodies of its soldiers, unused.
Admit right now that unleashing an army of Tony Robbinses would be terrifying for the enemy.
So the U.S. military was divided over how to proceed. One side wanted to invest in developing weapons, technology, armor, and ways to train its soldiers. You know, Army stuff. The other side wanted to train soldiers to master extra-sensory perception, leaving their body at will to fight on the astral plane, levitation, psychic healing techniques, and the ability to walk through walls – they were asking for a “super soldier.”
Forget that there was no scientific evidence that this stuff actually worked. Or that the Army didn’t really ask if there was concrete evidence. And forget that the Army had no real plans to integrate these super soldiers into its order of battle against the Soviet Union when and if they did work. All they cared about were reports that the Soviets were seeking the same technology and powers, and the Americans wanted it too.
In Marvel Comics, the Soviet superhero is the “Red Guardian” and I really need him to fight the First Earth Battalion now, thanks.
To settle the matter, the Army researched a report on all things parapsychology, from remote viewing to psychokinesis. This comprehensive study took two years and was released at a whopping 425,000 pages by the National Research Council. Their findings? Spoiler Alert: the evidence in favor of nearly all of these techniques and powers were “scientifically unsupported.”
What they did find to work were things like mental rehearsals before physically performing a task. Still, the 0,000 allocated toward the potential research in 1981 was never spent and was still unspent seven years later.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, military surplus gear is like a box of chocolates — you never know what’s inside until you open it up and look.
For one lucky buyer, Nick Mead, who owns a tank-driving experience business in the United Kingdom, a $38,000 purchase of a Chinese-built Type 69 main battle tank off of eBay was a bargain, since he scored $2,592,010 of gold that had been hidden in the vehicle’s diesel tank! That represents a net profit of over $2.55 million.
According to militaryfactory.com, a battle-ready Type 69 main battle tank is armed with a 100mm gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun. The tank has a crew of four. Over 4,700 of these tanks were produced by China.
But this tank, while produced by China, was exported to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Saddam bought as many as 2,500 Type 59 and Type 69 tanks. While many were destroyed during Operation Desert Storm, this one survived the BRRRRRT!
The tank is believed to have also taken part in the original invasion of Kuwait. During the occupation of that country, Iraqi forces looted just about everything that wasn’t blasted apart. That included gold and other valuables.
Mead discovered the gold when checking out the tank after he’d been told by the tank’s previous owner that he’s discovered some machine-gun ammo on board. Mead then discovered the gold hidden in the fuel tank.
Currently the five bars of gold, each weighing about 12 pounds, are in police custody as they try to trace the original owners.
In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1917, thirteen American soldiers died together at the same moment, hanged in a mass execution on gallows that were immediately torn back down to lumber so other soldiers wouldn’t see them. If you serve in the military today, your life is better because of that morning, and because of the debate that followed. Samuel Ansell left the Army nearly a hundred years ago, and he might save your life one day.
The men who died on December 11 were black privates and NCOs, infantrymen who served together under white officers in the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment. Earlier that year, in the spring of 1917, they had been sent to Texas to guard army facilities as the United States went to war in Europe. Posted outside Houston, the men of the 24th collided with Jim Crow laws and the social customs that went with them. By mid-August, arguments were nearly turning into fights, and a white laborer on Camp Logan stabbed a black civilian to death in the payroll line.
On August 23, two Houston police officers saw a group of black teenagers shooting craps on a city street, and tried to arrest them for illegal gambling. The teenagers ran, and the police chased them, bursting into homes in an African-American neighborhood. A black woman named Sara Travers complained, and a pair of white policemen dragged her outside, half-dressed, to arrest her. Watching white police rough up a black woman, a soldier from the 3/24 in the city on a pass stepped forward and told them to stop. They beat him and took him to jail. Soon after, an NCO from the 2/24 approached the officers and demanded an explanation for the beating and the arrest. At that point, Officer Lee Sparks pulled his revolver out and began to beat Cpl. Charlies Baltimore over the head with it – then fired at his back as he ran away, before catching up to him and hauling him away to jail, too.
It was the moment when the arguments ended and the fighting began. Back at Camp Logan, a group of about 100 soldiers stormed an ammunition tent, loaded rifles, and went into town to find the police officers who had beaten and shot at their fellow infantrymen. They found them. At the end of a running gun battle, nineteen people were dead: Fifteen of them white, including police officers, and four black soldiers.
The courts-martial that followed were a joke, mass trials meant to placate infuriated Texas politicians. Sixty-three men were tried before the first of three courts, with single witnesses casually implicating dozens of defendants and men being convicted on the strength of testimony that had flatly misidentified them in court. For their defense, they were represented by an infantry officer with no legal training. On November 29, returning guilty verdicts by the box lot, the court sentenced 13 defendants to death. Facing local pressure, the convening authority, Maj. Gen. John Rickman, approved the verdicts and scheduled the executions – on his own authority, without seeking approval from the Army or the War Department.
The 13 men were simultaneously hanged on December 11 at 7:17 a.m. local time — one minute before sunrise — in the presence of U.S. Army officers and one local official, County Sheriff John Tobin.
It was the event that kicked off the debate about military justice during World War I: American soldiers were being killed by their own army without any kind of legal review or approval by national authorities.
Incredibly, the War Department issued a general order forbidding local commanders to put soldiers to death before the Judge Advocate General and the president had a chance to review their convictions – an obvious expectation that was only imposed for the first time in the second decade of the 20th century. Imagine serving in an army that could put you in front of the firing squad or put a noose around your neck a few days after a shoddy trial, with no one checking to make sure you hadn’t just been railroaded. That was a possible feature of military experience for the first century and a half of our history.
The War Department order was just in time. While the court-martial in Texas was delivering its sentences, drumhead courts-martial at the front in France were sentencing four other privates to death. Jeff Cook and Forest Sebastian had fallen asleep on guard duty on the front line, slumped forward against the trenches, while Olon Ledoyen and Stanley Fishback refused an order to drill. All four had even less of a trial than the soldiers of the 24th Infantry. Ledoyen and Fishback were represented in their defense by an infantry lieutenant who was pulled from the line for the job. Shrugging, he told them both to just plead guilty and hope for the best. All four trials took somewhere in the neighborhood of a few minutes, with little to no testimony, argument, or deliberation.
This is where our contemporary military justice system was born. In Washington, the Army had two top legal officers. The Judge Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Enoch Crowder, was temporarily assigned to other wartime duties, so Brig. Gen. Samuel Ansell was the acting JAG; both thought of themselves as the Army’s top legal officer. The two men had completely different reactions to the trials in Texas and France, and a totally different view of the way courts-martial were supposed to work. Their argument – the “Ansell-Crowder dispute” – kicked off a full century of debate.
To Crowder, the purpose of a court-martial was discipline and good military order, and the results of a trial could only merit objections from army lawyers if blatant unfairness screamed from the record of the proceedings. Commanders needed near-absolute latitude to deliver the punishments inflicted by courts, and the JAG office had little to no reason to interfere. If the army’s lawyers objected to the death sentences in France, Crowder warned, Pershing would believe that his authority had been undermined in a critical matter involving his command.
But to Ansell, courts-martial had to be courts. They needed standards of evidence and reasonable rules about due process, and the outcome of a military trial could become illegitimate when courts broke rules. The acting JAG and the circle of reformers around him tore into the records of the courts-martial in France – finding, for example, that Cook and Sebastian had gone four days with almost no sleep at all, but their courts-martial had taken no notice of those extenuating circumstances in delivering death sentences. “These cases were not well tried,” Ansell wrote.
President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Ansell and pardoned all four men. Sebastian died in combat soon afterward, fighting with courage, and Wilson told War Department officials that he was glad to have given a soldier a chance to redeem himself.
Then the war ended, and the argument got serious. Ansell presented a long report to Congress, detailing a series of proposals for changes in the Articles of War, the pre-UCMJ law that governed the army. He especially wanted to see the law adopt some form of mandatory post-conviction legal review, creating an appellate authority that had the direct power to overturn bad convictions. But Crowder eased him out of the office, arranging a job for Ansell at a law firm before telling him that he was done in the army. As Congress prepared to vote on Ansell’s proposed reforms, Crowder – back at his regular duties as the army JAG – gave his congressional allies a set of more modest changes. In an amendment to the pending legislation, they swapped out Ansell’s reforms for Crowder’s, and the law passed.
Even as Crowder won, though, Ansell had forced a more serious set of reforms on the army than his adversaries had wanted to see. Among the changes to the laws governing the army in 1920, Congress created boards of review for the first time. A retired JAG officer, Lawrence J. Morris, calls those boards “the first step toward a formal appellate process.” Another change required courts-martial to reach unanimous agreement to impose the death penalty, where the previous Articles of War had only required a two-thirds majority vote to put a soldier to death.
Ansell began the long effort to make courts-martial into true courts, giving soldiers some degree of due process protection. And he planted the seeds for all of the debates that have followed. After World War II, when Congress and the newly created Department of Defense decided to pursue the more serious reforms that led to the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the person who led the effort was a law school professor, Edmund Morgan – who had spent World War I in uniform, working for Ansell in the office of the Judge Advocate General.
Injustice led to justice. Your legal rights before the military justice system today – including your right to a trial that isn’t tainted by unlawful command influence, your right to be represented by a lawyer, and your right to appeal serious convictions to real military appellate courts – were born in a field outside Houston in 1917. Arguing over the death of soldiers, Samuel Ansell and the generation of army lawyers who served alongside him began to make military justice a far better system for everyone who followed. They were patriots who served their country with honor and left it a better place.
Chris Bray is the author of “Court-Martial: How Military Justice Has Shaped America from the Revolution to 9/11 and Beyond,” published last month by W.W. Norton.
Carl Brashear was no stranger to adversity. A sharecropper’s son, he grew up on a farm in Kentucky and attended segregated schools his entire life. He enlisted in the Navy the same year that President Truman effectively ended segregation in the military by issuing Executive Order 9981. Brashear was told repeatedly that he couldn’t be a Navy diver: no black man ever had. His application was ignored and lost, over and over until 1954 when he made the cut. But those struggles paled in comparison to the mission that cost him his leg.
When Brashear enlisted, black sailors were only offered jobs like serving white officers meals or cleaning up. Brashear knew he was meant to do more. He wanted to be a Navy diver.
In addition to the physical attributes it takes to be a Diver, you also have to have a bit of smarts too. There is a science to diving and understanding it is a key prerequisite to becoming and advancing through the Diving hierarchy. Brashear had grown up in rural Kentucky and, because of the lack of education in segregated schools, had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. While he had become a salvage diver which was difficult in and of itself, in order to get to the next step, he had to pass a grueling science component.
It took him almost 9 years, but he was able to do so, and became a First-Class Diver in 1964. Braesher made history as the first African American to become a Navy diver.
Then the accident happened.
In January 1966, off the coast of Spain, two Air Force planes collided while attempting to link up to refuel. A B-52G Stratofortress Bomber collided with a KC-135A Stratotanker causing both planes to go down. All four of the refueler’s crew perished while three of the seven crew died on the bomber when their plane broke apart.
While the loss of life itself was devastating, the cargo of the bomber was cause of grave concern as well. Falling to the earth were four MK28 Hydrogen bombs.
Three of the bombs were found immediately in a Spanish fishing village. The fourth was believed to have fallen into the Mediterranean.
The Air Force asked the assistance of the United States Navy. After 80 days of searching, the bomb was finally located. It took over 20 ships, thousands of men and about 150 Navy Divers, one of whom was Carl Brashear.
Two months into the search, a tow cable snapped and sent a pipe into Brashear’s leg almost shearing it off. Brashear was medevaced to Germany and then Virginia. Despite all attempts to save his left leg below the knee, doctors could not stop the infections and necrosis that set in.
Brashear would have to lose his leg.
For most of us who served, this should have meant the end of his career and most certainly should have ended his time as a Navy Diver.
For Carl Brashear, that was not an option. His journey in the Navy had already been long and arduous, and he had his eyes set on something bigger. One of his personal beliefs was, “It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down”.
It should have been the end of his career. For Brashear it was just another fight he was going to win. The Navy set about the process to medically retire him.
Brashear refused to show up for his med-board meeting and instead went about proving to the Navy that he could be returned to active duty. As reported by the L.A. Times, Brashear said, “Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. In that year, if I would have gone to sick bay, they would have written me up. I didn’t go to sick bay. I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy.”
It took almost two years of determination, but in 1968, Brashear was able to be recertified as a Navy Diver.
Again, for most people this would have been a remarkable finale. For Brashear, there was one more major goal he wanted.
Brashear pushed through the limitation of having a prosthetic leg and studied master the scientific criteria that was needed to get to the next level.
In two years, he did it. In 1970, he became the first African American to become a Master Diver in the United State Navy.
Brashear retired in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.
Through his career he told people, “I ain’t going to let nobody steal my dream”.
Few weapons are more closely associated with World War II than the M3 Submachine Gun – also known as the “Grease Gun” for its distinctive shape. The Grease Gun actually saw service for decades after the war, becoming the standard-issue weapon for crews manning the M-48 through M-60 battle tanks. It was the longest-serving SMG, from 1942 to 1992.
Its World War II use of the .45 round, already in use by the Thompson submachine gun and the M1911 pistol, made it a weapon that could be easily adapted for more situations and more troops. Sadly, it was also the weapon’s ultimate undoing.
A U.S. soldier from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division fires an M3 submachine gun during a training exercise.
By many accounts, the M3 was still in use by the 1990s. Unlike many of its contemporary weapons, the Grease Gun did not have adjustable sights and was mainly intended for tank crews to use in close quarters so they could get back in the tank and continue firing the big gun. The stopping power of a spray of .45-caliber rounds will go a long way toward making that possible.
Its main competitor was the Thompson submachine gun, but the Thompson had problems of its own. It was heavy and expensive to build. The U.S. wanted a more lightweight model for tankers and paratroopers, but didn’t want to spend all the money per item. The M3 was the answer, despite a few shortcomings.
A U.S. troop in Vietnam carrying the M3 SMG.
The short barrel, while making it possible for crews to carry around the cramped quarters of a tank, also added to its inaccuracy. The real trouble comes after a tanker has to expend all of his pre-loaded magazines. The M3 submachine gun has a magazine that appears to be longer than its barrel. A large magazine is a great thing for a fully-automatic weapon like the Grease Gun, but as anyone who’s sprayed an automatic before knows, the bullets run out really fast.
Tankers were issued four magazine for the tank’s two grease guns. Once they were out, the magazines would have to be reloaded. Now imagine trying to fully reload an M3 submachine gun magazine, especially when it’s almost full.
The M3 cost around .00 to produce in 1942, equal to about 0.00 today.
Eventually, the M3 was phased out by more efficient weapons for anyone who might need a personal weapon on the battlefield as the .45 round gave way to the 5.56 and 9mm standards.
After the 1991 Gulf War, the M3 began to disappear from the U.S. Military altogether after some 50 years in service.
When the cheers of the viral military homecomings have dissipated and the videos stop playing, real life begins. Netflix’s new documentary, Father Soldier Son, pulls back the curtain and brings the viewer into the reality of the military family and the devastating cost of a 20-year war.
The public perception of a military service member leans toward words like heroic and exceptional. But they are human beings with real struggles as they live with the aftereffects of their commitment to this country. Father Soldier Son reveals that to the public. To create the documentary, two journalists from The New York Times spent 10 years (yes, 10 years) following American soldier Brian Eisch and his family.
What initially began as a film to document a battalion’s year-long deployment in 2010 during a troop surge evolved into an unexpected new project for directors Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn.
“We really wanted to tell the stories of American soldiers and Brian was just one of many [in that deployment]. But his kids were just so captivating and they spoke with such honesty, openness and emotion about what they were going through. They really stuck with us,” Einhorn explained.
The documentary begins with Eisch’s sons, Issac and Joey. They share their feelings about their dad being deployed overseas and their deep fears for his safety. This is another unique perspective of this film; the public is given a glimpse of how deployment impacts military children.
The viewer then witnesses the joyful reunion for the boys when their dad comes home for a break in his deployment. It’s not unlike the homecomings that go viral on social media. But then, the directors bring you in deeper with the emotional, compelling moments when the boys have to say goodbye; something not many members of the public ever witness.
When Eisch returned to combat in Afghanistan, he was shot.
Viewers are then brought on Eisch’s journey of being a wounded warrior. “We were able to show the before and what the boys were going through while he was away and the anxiety and fear that they have. Then we showed what happened after,” Einhorn explained. She continued, “There’s this sort of iconic idea of a hero, but what does that really mean? What is the sacrifice? Brian had a truck drive into a field and then jumped out of it to try and rescue this wounded ally of his. That is a very heroic thing by all accounts and he received an award for that. But what did that mean for him and his life afterward?”
Every time the directors thought the film was done, things kept happening in Eisch’s life that brought them back. “We got to take this personal and deep dive into this family to show how it [war] impacted them over time,” Davis said.
Three years after his combat injury, the constant pain forced Eisch to undergo a leg amputation.
The events that unfold after following that are a reality for many service members experiencing physical or invisible wounds of war. This film will bring viewers on a journey filled with hope, but also devastating loss and pain. “As journalists we really wanted to make it a window into a military family…These quiet consequences and how they can ripple through a family and reshape things. That’s what we witnessed with this family and felt hadn’t been explored,” said Einhorn.
Directors Catrin Einhorn (left) and Leslye Davis (right).
Both directors were asked how the family reacted to the documentary once it was revealed.
“We got to watch it with the family…He [Eisch] thinks it’s true. He thinks the story accurately depicts his life. The first time the family watched it – it was very retraumatizing. They were in grief watching it, and shock. But it seems that it has their seal of approval,” Davis shared. Einhorn added, “He said it was both joyful and devastating for them to watch it. He turned to us at the end and said, ‘It’s true, I am struggling.'”
“We look forward to what people take away from the film,” Davis said.
The documentary is available at midnight on July 17 to Netflix subscribers. The directors shared that the New York Times will be releasing a follow up a few days after the release to give viewers an update on the family.
When watching the film, it will take viewers into the unadulterated reality for military families. Father Soldier Son is a stark reminder of the far reaching ripple effects of war.
For seven decades, the NATO alliance has practiced collective defense and deterrence against evolving international threats, and over the years, its capabilities have changed accordingly.
NATO’s most “powerful weapon,” according to Jim Townsend with the Center for a New American Security, is the “unity of the alliance,” but the individual allies also possess hard-hitting capabilities that could be called upon were it to face high-level aggression.
Heather Conley with the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes that Russia is likely to continue to press the alliance through low-end influence and cyberwarfare operations. Still, she explained to Business Insider, NATO needs to be seriously contemplating a high-end fight as Russia modernizes, pursuing hypersonic cruise missiles and other new systems.
So, what does that fight look like?
“I’ve always likened it to a potluck dinner,” Townsend told Business Insider. “If NATO has this potluck dinner, what are the kinds of meals, kind of dishes that allies could bring that would be most appreciated?”
“If a host is looking to invite someone who is going to bring the good stuff, they are for sure going to invite the United States,” he explained, adding that “in all categories, the US leads.”
Nonetheless, the different dinner guests bring a variety of capabilities to the table. Here’s some highlights of the many powerful weapons NATO could bring to bear against Russia.
Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander performs a dedication pass in an F-35A Lightning II during the annual Heritage Flight Training Course March 1, 2019, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)
1. F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter
“The air side of the NATO equation is led by the United States with the F-35 and other various aircraft,” Townsend told BI.
The fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an aircraft that rival powers have been unable to match its stealth and advanced suite of powerful sensors.
While some NATO countries are looking at the F-35 as a leap in combat capability, others continue to rely on the F-16, an older supersonic fighter that can dogfight and also bomb ground targets. And then some countries, like Germany, are considering European alternatives.
Royal Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon F2.
2. Eurofighter Typhoons
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a capable mutli-role aircraft designed by a handful of NATO countries, namely the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain, determined to field an elite air-superiority fighter. France, which walked away from the Eurofighter project, independently built a similar fighter known as the Dassault Rafale.
Observers argue that the Typhoon is comparable to late-generation Russian Flanker variants, such as the Su-35.
While each aircraft has its advantages, be it the agility of the Typhoon or the low-speed handling of the Flanker, the two aircraft are quite similar, suggesting, as The National Interest explained, that the Eurofighter could hold its own in a dogfight with the deadly Russian fighter.
A B-52 Stratofortress deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., sits on the flight line at RAF Fairford, England, March 14, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tessa B. Corrick)
The US provides conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities through the regular rotation of bomber aircraft into the European area of operations.
American bombers have been routinely rotating into the area since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, according to Military.com. That year, the Pentagon sent two B-2 Spirit bombers and three B-52s to Europe for training. The B-1B Lancers are also among the US bombers that regularly operate alongside NATO allies.
US Navy P-8 Poseidon taking off at Perth Airport.
4. US P-8A Poseidon
“There’s also the maritime posture, particularly as Russia continues to rely on a submarine nuclear deterrent. We need a stronger presence. That’s why we’re seeing Norway, the US, UK do more with the P-8As,” Conley, the CSIS expert, told BI.
Facing emerging threats in the undersea domain, where the margins to victory are said to be razor thin, NATO allies are increasingly boosting their ability to hunt and track enemy submarines from above and below the water.
While there are a number of options available for this task, the US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol plane, which was brought into replace the US military’s older P-3 Orions, are among the best submarine hunters out there.
Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad (front) leads Turkish frigate TCG Oruçreis, Belgian frigate BNS Louise Marie and a Swedish Visby-class corvette during Trident Juncture.
(NATO/LCDR Pedro Miguel Ribeiro Pinhei)
Another effective anti-submarine capability is that provided by the various frigates operated by a number of NATO countries.
“The NATO allies, in particular Italy, France, Spain, all have frigates that have very capable anti-submarine warfare systems,” Bryan Clark with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told BI.
“They have active low-frequency sonars that are variable-depth sonars. They can find submarines easily, and they are very good against diesel submarines.” These forces could be used to target Russian submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean and into the Black Sea.
“Norway and Denmark also have really good frigates,” he explained. “They could go out and do anti-submarine warfare” in the North Sea/Baltic Sea area, “and they are very good at that.”
An AH-64D Apache helicopter from 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, based at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.
6. AH-64 Apache gunship
The Apache gunship helicopter, capable of close air support, has the ability to rain down devastation on an approaching armor column.
The attack helicopters can carry up to sixteen Hellfire missiles at a time, with each missile possessing the ability to cripple an enemy armor unit. The Hellfire is expected to eventually be replaced with the more capable Joint Air-to-Ground Missile.
The Cold War-era Apache attack helicopters have been playing a role in the counterinsurgency fight in the Middle East, but the gunships could still hit hard in a high-end conflict.
7. German Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 main battle tank, which gained a reputation for being “indestructible,” is a formidable weapon first built to blunt the spearhead of a Soviet armor thrust and one that would probably be on the front lines were the NATO alliance and Russia to come to blows.
While this tank, a key component of NATO’s armored forces, took an unexpected beating in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, it is still considered one of the alliance’s top tanks, on par with the US M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2.
Observers suspect that the Leopard 2, like its US and British counterparts, would be easily able to destroy most Russian tanks, as these tanks are likely to get the jump on a Russian tank in a shoot out.
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and ships assigned to the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) transit the Atlantic Ocean while conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) on Feb. 16, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)
8. US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers
A last-minute addition to last year’s Trident Juncture exercise — massive NATO war games designed to simulate a large-scale conflict with Russia — was the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and its accompanying strike group.
The carrier brought 6,000 servicemembers and a large carrier air wing of F/A-18 Super Hornets to Norway for the largest drill in years.
“One thing the NATO naval partners have been looking at is using carriers as part of the initial response,” Clark told BI. The US sails carriers into the North Atlantic to demonstrate to Russia that the US can send carriers into this area, from which it could carry out “operations into the Baltics without too much trouble,” he added.
America’s ability to project power through the deployment of aircraft carriers is unmatched, due mainly to the massive size, sophistication and training regimen of its carrier fleet. The UK and France also have aircraft carriers.
(DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett)
9. PATRIOT surface-to-air missile system
PATRIOT, which stands for “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target,” is an effective surface-to-air guided air and missile defense system that is currently used around the world, including in a number NATO countries.
There is a “need for an integrated air and missile defense picture,” Conley told BI. “That is certainly a high-valued protection for the alliance.”
NATO is also in the process of fielding Aegis Ashore sites, land-based variants of the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, that can track and fire missiles that intercept ballistic targets over Europe.
The U.S. Navy submarine USS North Dakota (SSN-784) underway during bravo sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.
(U.S. Navy Photo)
10. US Virginia-class submarines
Virginia-class submarines, nuclear-powered fast attack boats, are among the deadliest submarines in the world. They are armed with torpedoes to sink enemy submarines and surface combatants, and they can also target enemy bases and missile batteries ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
These submarines “could be really useful to do cruise missile attacks against some of the Russian air defense systems in the western military district that reach over the Baltic countries,” Clark told BI.
“You can really conduct air operations above these countries without being threatened by these air defense systems. So, you would want to use cruise missiles to attack them from submarines at sea.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It goes without saying that the US Army is continuously testing and adding new weapons to its arsenal.
For example, the Army recently began to replace the M9 and M11 pistols with the M17 and M18, but has only delivered them to soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Therefore, the pistols are not yet standard issue.
While the Army continues to stay ahead of the game, it undoubtedly has a multitude of weapons for its soldiers.
And we compiled a list of all these standard issue weapons operable by individual soldiers below, meaning that we didn’t include, for example, the Javelin anti-tank missile system because it takes more than one person to operate, nor did we include nonstandard issue weapons.
Check them out:
The M1911 is a .45 caliber sidearm that the Army has used since World War I, and has even begun phasing out.
The Army started replacing the M1911 with the 9mm M9 in the mid-1980s.
The M11 is another 9mm pistol that replaced the M1911, and is itself being replaced by the M17 and M18 pistols.
The M500 is a 12-gauge shotgun that usually comes with a five-round capacity tube. The Army began issuing shotguns to soldiers during World War I to help clear trenches, and has been issuing the M500 since the 1980s.
The 12-gauge M590 is very similar to the M500 — both of which are made by Mossberg — except for little specifications, such as triggers, barrel length and so forth.
M26 modular shotgun accessory
The M26 is “basically a secondary weapon slung underneath an M4 to allow the operator to switch between 5.56 and 12-gauge rounds quickly without taking his eyes off the target or his hands off of his rifle,” according to the US Army.
M14 enhanced battle rifle
The M14, which shoots a 7.62mm round, has been heavily criticized, and the Army is currently phasing it out. Read more about that here.
The M4 shoots 5.56mm rounds and is a shortened version of the M16A2.
The M16A2 shoots the same round and has a similar muzzle velocity as the M4. One of the main differences, though, is that it has a longer barrel length.
M16 rifle with M203 grenade launcher
The M203 shoots 40mm grenades and can be fitted under the M4 and M16, but the Army is currently phasing it out for the M320.
M249 squad automatic weapon
The SAW shoots a 5.56mm round like the M4 and M16, but it’s heavier and has a greater muzzle velocity and firing range.
M240B medium machine gun.
The M240B is a belt-fed machine gun that shoots 7.62mm rounds, but is even heavier and has a greater max range than the SAW.
There are multiple versions of the M240, and two more of those versions are Army standard issue.
M240L medium machine gun
The M240L is a much lighter version of the M240B, weighing 22.3 pounds, versus the 240B’s 27.1 pounds.
M240H medium machine gun
The M240H is an upgraded version of the M240D, which can be mounted on vehicles and aircraft.
M110 semi-automatic sniper system
The M110 shoots a 7.62x51mm round with an effective firing range of more than 2,600 feet. But the Army is currently phasing it out for the Heckler & Koch G28.
M2010 enhanced sniper rifle
The M2010 shoots a .30 caliber, or 7.62x67mm round with an even greater effective firing range than the M110 at nearly 4,000 feet.
M107 long-range sniper rifle
The M107 shoots an incredibly large 12.7x99mm round with an equally incredibly large effective firing range of more than 6,500 feet.
M2 machine gun
The M2 shoots .50 caliber rounds with an effective firing range of more than 22,000 feet. It’s also very heavy, weighing 84 pounds.
M320 grenade launcher (stand-alone)
The M320 is the Army’s new 40mm grenade launcher, which can be fitted under a rifle or used as a stand-alone launcher. The M203 could too, but rarely was.
The M320 reportedly is more accurate and has niftier features, like side-loading mechanisms and better grips.
MK19 grenade machine gun
The MK19 is a 40mm automatic grenade launcher that can mount on tripods and armored vehicles. It has an effective firing range of more than 7,000 feet, compared to the M320‘s 1,100 feet.
M3 Carl Gustaf (MAAWS)
The M3 Carl Gustaf is an 84mm recoilless rifle system that can shoot a variety of high-explosive rounds at a variety of targets, including armored vehicles.
And this graphic, updated in February 2018, and which the Army gave to Business Insider, shows all the current and future standard issue weapons.
All images featured in this article are courtesy of the Department of Defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Long story short, the 20th Century’s most widely-known British non-commissioned officer was real. Only his name wasn’t Pepper, it was Babington. And he was a Lieutenant General.
Paul McCartney chose the image of Gen. Sir James Melville Babington as the real-life visage of the fictional Sgt. Pepper for the Beatles 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For most people, being on a Beatles album would be the highlight of their life. Not so for one of the British Empire’s decorated officers.
The Scottish-born Babington came up in the ranks of the British Imperial military through the Boer War of the 19th century, spending decades fighting insurgencies against the Dutch descended residents of the southern tip of Africa. He scored a number of decisive wins there, becoming a feared opponent of the rebels. He left just before the end of the war, which went just about as well as you think it might when a bunch of farmers take on the largest empire on earth.
After laying the smack down on the Boers in South Africa, he did a brief stint in England before being transferred to take command of the New Zealand Defence Force in 1902. After five years, he was sent back to London, where he stayed until World War I broke out.
From there, he took command of the British 23rd Division under the New Army. Described as “elderly but fearless” he spent a lot of effort and Crown funds on outfitting his men, unlike many other commanders. As a result, his men loved him and fought so hard at legendary WWI battles like the Somme and Ypres. He also led men along the fronts that aren’t as talked about in history books, like Italy and the Asiago Plateau.
When he retired, he was Lieutenant General Sir James Melville Babington KCB, KCMG, commander of British Forces in Italy. He died in 1936, and would never know that his face finally achieved worldwide fame, probably even in South Africa.
Just as dust gathers in corners and along bookshelves in our homes, dust piles up in space too. But when the dust settles in the solar system, it’s often in rings. Several dust rings circle the Sun. The rings trace the orbits of planets, whose gravity tugs dust into place around the Sun, as it drifts by on its way to the center of the solar system.
The dust consists of crushed-up remains from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago — rubble from asteroid collisions or crumbs from blazing comets. Dust is dispersed throughout the entire solar system, but it collects at grainy rings overlying the orbits of Earth and Venus, rings that can be seen with telescopes on Earth. By studying this dust — what it’s made of, where it comes from, and how it moves through space — scientists seek clues to understanding the birth of planets and the composition of all that we see in the solar system.
Two recent studies report new discoveries of dust rings in the inner solar system. One study uses NASA data to outline evidence for a dust ring around the Sun at Mercury’s orbit. A second study from NASA identifies the likely source of the dust ring at Venus’ orbit: a group of never-before-detected asteroids co-orbiting with the planet.
“It’s not every day you get to discover something new in the inner solar system,” said Marc Kuchner, an author on the Venus study and astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is right in our neighborhood.”
In this illustration, several dust rings circle the Sun. These rings form when planets’ gravities tug dust grains into orbit around the Sun. Recently, scientists have detected a dust ring at Mercury’s orbit. Others hypothesize the source of Venus’ dust ring is a group of never-before-detected co-orbital asteroids.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)
Another ring around the Sun
Guillermo Stenborg and Russell Howard, both solar scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., did not set out to find a dust ring. “We found it by chance,” Stenborg said, laughing. The scientists summarized their findings in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal on Nov. 21, 2018.
They describe evidence of a fine haze of cosmic dust over Mercury’s orbit, forming a ring some 9.3 million miles wide. Mercury — 3,030 miles wide, just big enough for the continental United States to stretch across — wades through this vast dust trail as it circles the Sun.
Ironically, the two scientists stumbled upon the dust ring while searching for evidence of a dust-free region close to the Sun. At some distance from the Sun, according to a decades-old prediction, the star’s mighty heat should vaporize dust, sweeping clean an entire stretch of space. Knowing where this boundary is can tell scientists about the composition of the dust itself, and hint at how planets formed in the young solar system.
So far, no evidence has been found of dust-free space, but that’s partly because it would be difficult to detect from Earth. No matter how scientists look from Earth, all the dust in between us and the Sun gets in the way, tricking them into thinking perhaps space near the Sun is dustier than it really is.
Stenborg and Howard figured they could work around this problem by building a model based on pictures of interplanetary space from NASA’s STEREO satellite — short for Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory.
Scientists think planets start off as mere grains of dust. They emerge from giant disks of gas and dust that circle young stars. Gravity and other forces cause material within the disk to collide and coalesce.
(NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Ultimately, the two wanted to test their new model in preparation for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is currently flying a highly elliptic orbit around the Sun, swinging closer and closer to the star over the next seven years. They wanted to apply their technique to the images Parker will send back to Earth and see how dust near the Sun behaves.
Scientists have never worked with data collected in this unexplored territory, so close to the Sun. Models like Stenborg and Howard’s provide crucial context for understanding Parker Solar Probe’s observations, as well as hinting at what kind of space environment the spacecraft will find itself in — sooty or sparkling clean.
Two kinds of light show up in STEREO images: light from the Sun’s blazing outer atmosphere — called the corona — and light reflected off all the dust floating through space. The sunlight reflected off this dust, which slowly orbits the Sun, is about 100 times brighter than coronal light.
“We’re not really dust people,” said Howard, who is also the lead scientist for the cameras on STEREO and Parker Solar Probe that take pictures of the corona. “The dust close to the Sun just shows up in our observations, and generally, we have thrown it away.” Solar scientists like Howard — who study solar activity for purposes such as forecasting imminent space weather, including giant explosions of solar material that the Sun can sometimes send our way — have spent years developing techniques to remove the effect of this dust. Only after removing light contamination from dust can they clearly see what the corona is doing.
The two scientists built their model as a tool for others to get rid of the pesky dust in STEREO — and eventually Parker Solar Probe — images, but the prediction of dust-free space lingered in the back of their minds. If they could devise a way of separating the two kinds of light and isolate the dust-shine, they could figure out how much dust was really there. Finding that all the light in an image came from the corona alone, for example, could indicate they’d found dust-free space at last.
Mercury’s dust ring was a lucky find, a side discovery Stenborg and Howard made while they were working on their model. When they used their new technique on the STEREO images, they noticed a pattern of enhanced brightness along Mercury’s orbit — more dust, that is — in the light they’d otherwise planned to discard.
“It wasn’t an isolated thing,” Howard said. “All around the Sun, regardless of the spacecraft’s position, we could see the same five percent increase in dust brightness, or density. That said something was there, and it’s something that extends all around the Sun.”
Scientists never considered that a ring might exist along Mercury’s orbit, which is maybe why it’s gone undetected until now, Stenborg said. “People thought that Mercury, unlike Earth or Venus, is too small and too close to the Sun to capture a dust ring,” he said. “They expected that the solar wind and magnetic forces from the Sun would blow any excess dust at Mercury’s orbit away.”
With an unexpected discovery and sensitive new tool under their belt, the researchers are still interested in the dust-free zone. As Parker Solar Probe continues its exploration of the corona, their model can help others reveal any other dust bunnies lurking near the Sun.
Asteroids hiding in Venus’ orbit
This isn’t the first time scientists have found a dust ring in the inner solar system. Twenty-five years ago, scientists discovered that Earth orbits the Sun within a giant ring of dust. Others uncovered a similar ring near Venus’ orbit, first using archival data from the German-American Helios space probes in 2007, and then confirming it in 2013, with STEREO data.
Since then, scientists determined the dust ring in Earth’s orbit comes largely from the asteroid belt, the vast, doughnut-shaped region between Mars and Jupiter where most of the solar system’s asteroids live. These rocky asteroids constantly crash against each other, sloughing dust that drifts deeper into the Sun’s gravity, unless Earth’s gravity pulls the dust aside, into our planet’s orbit.
At first, it seemed likely that Venus’ dust ring formed like Earth’s, from dust produced elsewhere in the solar system. But when Goddard astrophysicist Petr Pokorny modeled dust spiraling toward the Sun from the asteroid belt, his simulations produced a ring that matched observations of Earth’s ring — but not Venus’.
This discrepancy made him wonder if not the asteroid belt, where else does the dust in Venus’ orbit come from? After a series of simulations, Pokorny and his research partner Marc Kuchner hypothesized it comes from a group of never-before-detected asteroids that orbit the Sun alongside Venus. They published their work in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on March 12, 2019.
“I think the most exciting thing about this result is it suggests a new population of asteroids that probably holds clues to how the solar system formed,” Kuchner said. If Pokorny and Kuchner can observe them, this family of asteroids could shed light on Earth and Venus’ early histories. Viewed with the right tools, the asteroids could also unlock clues to the chemical diversity of the solar system.
Because it’s dispersed over a larger orbit, Venus’ dust ring is much larger than the newly detected ring at Mercury’s. About 16 million miles from top to bottom and 6 million miles wide, the ring is littered with dust whose largest grains are roughly the size of those in coarse sandpaper. It’s about 10 percent denser with dust than surrounding space. Still, it’s diffuse — pack all the dust in the ring together, and all you’d get is an asteroid two miles across.
Using a dozen different modeling tools to simulate how dust moves around the solar system, Pokorny modeled all the dust sources he could think of, looking for a simulated Venus ring that matched the observations. The list of all the sources he tried sounds like a roll call of all the rocky objects in the solar system: Main Belt asteroids, Oort Cloud comets, Halley-type comets, Jupiter-family comets, recent collisions in the asteroid belt.
“But none of them worked,” Kuchner said. “So, we started making up our own sources of dust.”
Perhaps, the two scientists thought, the dust came from asteroids much closer to Venus than the asteroid belt. There could be a group of asteroids co-orbiting the Sun with Venus — meaning they share Venus’ orbit, but stay far away from the planet, often on the other side of the Sun. Pokorny and Kuchner reasoned a group of asteroids in Venus’ orbit could have gone undetected until now because it’s difficult to point earthbound telescopes in that direction, so close to the Sun, without light interference from the Sun.
Asteroids represent building blocks of the solar system’s rocky planets. When they collide in the asteroid belt, they shed dust that scatters throughout the solar system, which scientists can study for clues to the early history of planets.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab)
Co-orbiting asteroids are an example of what’s called a resonance, an orbital pattern that locks different orbits together, depending on how their gravitational influences meet. Pokorny and Kuchner modeled many potential resonances: asteroids that circle the Sun twice for every three of Venus’ orbits, for example, or nine times for Venus’ ten, and one for one. Of all the possibilities, one group alone produced a realistic simulation of the Venus dust ring: a pack of asteroids that occupies Venus’ orbit, matching Venus’ trips around the Sun one for one.
But the scientists couldn’t just call it a day after finding a hypothetical solution that worked. “We thought we’d discovered this population of asteroids, but then had to prove it and show it works,” Pokorny said. “We got excited, but then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s so much work to do.'”
They needed to show that the very existence of the asteroids makes sense in the solar system. It would be unlikely, they realized, that asteroids in these special, circular orbits near Venus arrived there from somewhere else like the asteroid belt. Their hypothesis would make more sense if the asteroids had been there since the very beginning of the solar system.
The scientists built another model, this time starting with a throng of 10,000 asteroids neighboring Venus. They let the simulation fast forward through 4.5 billion years of solar system history, incorporating all the gravitational effects from each of the planets. When the model reached present-day, about 800 of their test asteroids survived the test of time.
Pokorny considers this an optimistic survival rate. It indicates that asteroids could have formed near Venus’ orbit in the chaos of the early solar system, and some could remain there today, feeding the dust ring nearby.
The next step is actually pinning down and observing the elusive asteroids. “If there’s something there, we should be able to find it,” Pokorny said. Their existence could be verified with space-based telescopes like Hubble, or perhaps interplanetary space-imagers similar to STEREO’s. Then, the scientists will have more questions to answer: How many of them are there, and how big are they? Are they continuously shedding dust, or was there just one break-up event?
In this illustration, an asteroid breaks apart under the powerful gravity of LSPM J0207+3331, a white dwarf star located around 145 light-years away. Scientists think crumbling asteroids supply the dust rings surrounding this old star.
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger)
Dust rings around other stars
The dust rings that Mercury and Venus shepherd are just a planet or two away, but scientists have spotted many other dust rings in distant star systems. Vast dust rings can be easier to spot than exoplanets, and could be used to infer the existence of otherwise hidden planets, and even their orbital properties.
But interpreting extrasolar dust rings isn’t straightforward. “In order to model and accurately read the dust rings around other stars, we first have to understand the physics of the dust in our own backyard,” Kuchner said. By studying neighboring dust rings at Mercury, Venus and Earth, where dust traces out the enduring effects of gravity in the solar system, scientists can develop techniques for reading between the dust rings both near and far.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.