The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition) - We Are The Mighty
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The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s why millennial veterans home ownership is on the rise

Many millennials and members of generation Z are putting off buying a home. It’s not hard to blame them for that. Housing prices have gone up, and it is a lot harder to save for that big down payment when purchasing your first home. Home purchasing among millennials has dropped with the exception of one demographic: veterans.


There has been an eight-year increase in veterans using the VA home loan, up 43 percent. In 2019 alone, there were 624,000 loans backed by the VA, and a majority of these loans were held by millennials.

That number will go up even more in 2020 thanks to a change in benefits.

A new law signed by President Trump this past June, the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, makes it even easier for veterans to move into the home of their dreams. The part of the law that affects homebuyers was the limit on how much veterans could borrow without a down payment.

There is no longer a limit on how much a veteran can borrow. If you qualify, you can now take out a bigger loan with no down payment.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

The VA home loan is a wonderful resource for qualified veterans. VA loans are mortgage options issued by private lenders with zero down and backed by the VA. The loans can only be used for primary residences, not properties used for investment. However, they can be used to refinance an existing mortgage.

With housing prices soaring in certain parts of the country, there was a major roadblock to the VA home loan. The loan would only cover the value of the house up to a certain amount. As a result, if a veteran wanted to use the VA home loan to purchase a house that was more to their needs and desires and it was over the limit, they had to front a portion of the extra amount as a down payment.

Jeff Jabbora is a Marine veteran who has spent the last seven years as a real estate agent in San Diego County. When asked about the new law, he said the new law “enables qualified veterans, who qualify for a loan amount over the local area maximum to be able to not have to put money down on the loan. For example, if the local/county loan limit for where the veteran is buying the home was 0k, and the veteran was buying a 0k property, with the previous program, the veteran buyer would need to bring money to the table on the overage. Most often, 25 percent. So in that scenario, it would be 25 percent of the overage of, 0k, which would be k.”

Before the law went into effect, the limit dissuaded veterans from moving into houses that were more suitable for them and limited their housing options. This was most noticed in areas like California, the D.C. area, the Northeast and cities with high housing costs. According to data from Realtor.com, a whopping 124 U.S. counties had a higher average list price than the 2019 loan limits. When you compare the cities with the highest median housing cost versus the cities where veterans use their VA home loan, you see that 50 percent of those cities are similar.

Veterans in Los Angeles will see the biggest savings. The average listing price in L.A. is id=”listicle-2645370998″,655,468. Based on that number, VA borrowers would have had to come up with a down payment of 2,236. Now they don’t have to.

Here is an example of how it works.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

With the new law in effect, there should be a marked increase in homeownership among veterans.

As with the VA home loan, steady and suitable income as well as credit comes into play.

Owning a home is a point of pride..thanks to this new law, more veterans can have the opportunity.

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This is why the US military is banning consumer drones

Drones have become an integral part of modern warfare, and the low supply of drones led the US Armed Forces to approve using off-the-shelf drones made by the Chinese giant DJI. However, on August 2, the order came to pull all DJI drones from service – immediately.


The problem is that the US is not the only one using the drones. ISIS and Hezbollah have made wide use of them as well, and the Pentagon worries that their familiarity with the drone’s control systems will makes them a ripe hacking-target that could provide valuable intelligence, such as troop movements.

“All units must cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow-on direction,” read the order, which was signed by Army Air Directorate’s deputy chief of staff Lt. General Joseph Anderson.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
A DJI-S800 Hexacopter. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In a statement to SUAS News, DJI said that “we are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision.”

“We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues. We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’.”

The operational risks associated with drones are not new to Israel. In the 1997 ‘Shayetet Disaster,’ Hezbollah utilized information obtained from an unencrypted IDF drone to lay an ambush that killed 11 commandos from the elite Shayetet-13 Special Operations unit.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
Shayetet 13 Operatives in training. Photo by Ziv Koren via Wikimedia Commons.

The terror militia was able to intercept signals sent out by Israel Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that conducted reconnaissance over the soldiers’ planned route in the five days that preceded the raid. The UAV’s signal was unencrypted and Israel’s enemies could therefore see the video being sent out in real time.

Hezbollah thus gained advance knowledge of the raid and had time to rig powerful explosives at points on the route where they expected the commando soldiers to pass. A force made up of 16 soldiers walked into the ambush and 11 were killed. Four more were injured and only one, the radio operator, was unhurt and called in the rescue force.

In addition, documents revealed by former NSA employee and whistle-blower Edward Snowden in 2016 revealed that the United States and Britain had successfully hacked IDF drones for the previous 18 years, and garnered the allies valuable intelligence into Israel’s plans to bomb Iran.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China probably lying that J-20 is ready for mass production

Chinese military sources told the South China Morning Post in early September 2018 that the new engine for its J-20 stealth fighter would soon be ready for mass production.

“The WS-15 [engine] is expected to be ready for widespread installation in the J-20s by the end of 2018,” one of the military sources told SCMP, adding that “minor problems” remained but would be resolved quickly.

China currently has about 20 J-20 stealth fighters in the field, but the aircraft are equipped with older Russian Salyut AL-31FN or WS-10B engines, which means they are not yet fifth-generation aircraft.


“It seems interesting that [the WS-15] would be ready for production so quickly,” Matthew P. Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at CSIS, told Business Insider.

The South China Morning Post report “might indicate that there was a major milestone in what they consider to be a ready-for-production engine,” Funaiole said, but there would likely be more reports out there if the whole package was truly ready.

“I imagine this would be a very proud moment for the PLA Air Force, and that they would want to promote that as much as possible,” Funaiole said. “It’s an impressive engine.”

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

China’s J-20 stealth fighter.

The WS-15 is reported to have a thrust rating of 30,000 to 44,000 pounds. The F-22 Raptor, for example, has a maximum thrust of 35,000 pounds.

Nevertheless, “there’s a difference between something being production ready, and an engine being ready to be outfitted on a particular airframe,” Funaioloe said.

“There’s the initial process of them testing [the J-20 with the WS-15], it being ready for limited production, and then the first outfits training and testing it,” Funaiole added.

In other words, there’s still a ways to go before the J-20 will be mass-produced with the WS-15, even if the WS-15 is almost ready for mass production.

But it’s unclear how long that process will take.

“It’s really hard to put a particular date on it,” Funaiole said, “I think that most people sort of expect there to be progress on it over the next couple years.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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The Border Patrol was actually founded to stop illegal Chinese immigration — from Mexico

A lot gets said about “America’s porous borders,” especially in an election year. Forget for a moment, about the argument about whether or not a wall would be effective along the U.S.-Mexican border (and forget about who is going to pay for it). Right now, there is no wall and there are three borders, guarded by a thin green line called the U.S. Border Patrol.


The boats, horses, and men of the Border Patrol weren’t originally meant to be on guard against illegal Mexican immigrants, drugs, and guns from coming over the southern U.S. border, they were formed to keep the American southwest free of illegal Chinese immigrants.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

The Border Patrol is no joke. The agency has a Congressionally-mandated 21,370 agents covering a staggering 19,000 miles across the U.S. northern and southern borders as well as the Caribbean. It has its own SWAT team, special operators, and search and rescue squads. They finish a 13- to 21-week long basic training course (depending on how well the trainee speaks Spanish) and then complete 12 to 16 weeks of field training at their first duty station – just to call themselves “agent.”

In 1904, the nascent Border Patrol was known as the Mounted Guards. Operating out of El Paso, Texas, 75 horsemen scanned as far west as California in an attempt to stem the tide of Chinese immigration.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
(National Archives)

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting immigration from China. During the Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroads, Chinese laborers were welcomed to the U.S. in droves. After the economic booms of the post-Civil War years and the end of the Gold Rush, the once-welcomed source of cheap labor lost their appeal and public opinion quickly turned sour.

A mix of these Mounted Guards, U.S. troops, and Texas Rangers kept an eye out for the unwanted immigrants. In 1915, the Mounted Guards became Mounted Inspectors and had Congressional authority – but they had to bring their own horses.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
The Border Patrol still does mounted operations today, but horses are provided. (National Archives)

In those days, catching customs violations were more important than cutting off illegal immigration. The Border Patrol as we know it was born in 1924, both as a response to Prohibition and to Congressional restrictions on the number of legal immigrants coming into the U.S.

With Prohibition, defending the northern border became as important as the south. Based in Detroit, the northern area had to cut illegal immigration as well as the illegal import of Canadian Whiskey. The American government authorized 450 agents to patrol all of America’s borders.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
(National Archives)

In 1925, Pancho Villa and his “Villistas” invaded American territory, sacking Columbus, New Mexico and killing it inhabitants. It was the largest American loss of life on American soil until the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Columbus didn’t receive Border Patrol agents until 1927 – two men guarding 135 miles of border, a microcosm of the modern Border Patrol’s modern long-distance mission.

Articles

Sailor’s death in Syria shows just how ballsy Navy bomb technicians really are

The Department of Defense identified a sailor killed in action on Nov. 24 during Operation Inherent Resolve as Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton.


The 42-year-old from Woodbridge, Virginia, died when an improvised explosive device detonated in northern Syria, near Ayn Issa, according to a release from the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve, which is coordinating the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
Photo of Navy EOD Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Dayton was killed north of Raqqa, a key battleground pitting Syrian government forces, rebel units and militants aligned with ISIS against one another.

Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, based out of the Norfolk area. According to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command website, explosive ordnance disposal personnel specialize in rendering explosive hazards safe, and have done anything from dismantling IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan to helping secure the Olympics to supporting a local police department.

Navy bomb technicians like Dayton often are assigned to special operations teams like SEAL Team 6, which is known to be operating with rebel units deep inside war torn Syria.

EOD is one field that can be very busy, even in peacetime, often due to unexploded ordnance from past wars. In recent years, BALTOPS exercises have come across live mines left over from World War II, and some Civil War souvenirs have caused major kerfluffles in the United States.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Platoon 503, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), practice visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) during a fast-rope exercise. Barry is on patrol with Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham/Released)

“I am deeply saddened by the news on this Thanksgiving Day that one of our brave service members has been killed in Syria while protecting us from the evil of ISIL. It is a painful reminder of the dangers our men and women in uniform face around the world to keep us safe,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a statement released by the Defense Department.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said, “The entire counter-ISIL Coalition sends our condolences to this hero’s family, friends and teammates.”

Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, members of the anti-ISIS coalition launched a total of 90 strikes, 19 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Those nineteen strikes destroyed or damaged a number of targets, including fifteen mortar systems, eight vehicles, four vehicle-borne IEDs, 22 supply routes, five caches and two heavy machine guns.

Six strikes took place near Ayn Issa, engaging four ISIS “tactical units” and destroying a vehicle storage facility, a vehicle-borne IED, a vehicle-borne IED facility and damaged fighting position.

Articles

Here’s how the F-35’s new tech could change aircraft carrier missions forever

Seven Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters spent Monday morning in a round robin off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, completing a tight succession of take-offs and arrested landings as pilots with Strike Fighter Squadron 101 completed carrier qualifications on the aircraft.


The dozen instructors with the squadron each completed the required 10 traps and two touch-and-go maneuvers in less than two days. But thanks to an advanced landing system in the fifth-generation aircraft that limits the variables pilots need to monitor when they catch the wire, officers with the squadron said they could have gotten the practice they needed in much less time.

“What has traditionally been required for initial qualifications … that can probably be reduced, because the task becomes mundane after a while,” said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Kitts, officer in charge of the testing detachment aboard this ship. “You can make corrections so easily.”

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The system that makes the difference is Delta Flight Path, developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. with input from Naval Air Systems Command. That system is one of more than a half-dozen F-35C features that are being tested in this third and final round of carrier exercises.

During a 20-day developmental testing period aboard the George Washington that will conclude Aug. 23, pilots will test the aircraft’s ability to fly symmetrical and asymmetrical external weapons loads, execute aircraft launches at maximum weight and against crosswinds, try out a new helmet software load designed to improve visibility in dark conditions, test the capabilities of Delta Flight Path and the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, and take out and replace an entire F-35C engine to simulate major maintenance aboard a carrier.

At the conclusion of these tests, officials believe the F-35C will be substantially ready for initial operational capability, a milestone the aircraft is expected to hit in 2018.

But success of the built-in carrier landing technology may have even wider-reaching effects.

Like the Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, or MAGIC CARPET, system now being tested on the Navy’s legacy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, Delta Flight Path gives the aircraft the ability to stay on glide slope automatically and minimize the number of corrections the pilot must make.

“All pilots are trained, we make corrections for glide slope with the throttle. We practice it when we get to our fleet trainers, and we practice it a bunch each and every time before we come out to the boat,” Kitts said. “So what you’re able to do when you come out here is hopefully spend less time practicing, because the workload on the pilot is extremely reduced.”

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
An F-35C Lightning II assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) on Aug. 15, 2016, in the Atlantic Ocean. | US Navy photo by Wyatt L. Anthony

That’s important, Kitts said, because time spent in the field and on the carrier practicing landings is time in which pilots are becoming less tactically proficient because they can’t develop and drill other skills.

The commanding officer of VFA-101, Capt. James Christie, said pilots are collecting data as they complete their required takeoffs and landings that could be used to inform a prospective proposal to reduce carrier training and qualification requirements.

“We’re not going to move too quickly; we’re going to ensure it’s the right thing to do,” Christie said. “But as soon as we have the empirical evidence that shows we can safely reduce those numbers, I’ll be all for submitting that to leadership.”

So far, the data looks good. In this round of testing, there have so far been no bolters, when an aircraft unintentionally misses the wire, and no landing wave-offs attributed to aircraft performance or safety issues, said Lt. Graham Cleveland, landing signal officer for VFA-101.

Cleveland said this new technology might enable the Navy to cut ashore training from 16 to 18 field carrier landing practices to between four and six. He said he also envisioned cutting carrier qualification requirements from ten to six traps in the future.

“That’s going to save money, that’s going to save fuel, that’s going to save aircraft life, basically,” he said.

The future aside, getting out to the carrier for the first evolution of testing to involve operational pilots as well as test pilots was its own milestone for many at the fore of efforts to ready the F-35C for the fleet.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see them come out and really make this aircraft real from the perspective of the fleet,” said Tom Briggs, acting chief test engineer for the Navy. “This is going to be a viable program, a viable aircraft that’s really going to do what it’s designed to do… watching them come out here and do this, it’s goose-bumpy.”

Articles

US Coast Guard makes a big change for ethical animal treatment

U.S. Coast Guard medics have stopped using military contractors who intentionally injure sedated animals so that medics can practice treating combat wounds.


Spokeswoman Lisa Novak said in a phone interview on April 27 that the practice was suspended in January. A working group will decide if the training will continue.

The so-called “live tissue training” involved anesthetized goats.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)
Here, the Army and Navy immunize a goat, which is much nicer. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roger S. Duncan)

Novak said she didn’t know what led to the suspension. In 2012, activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, released a video of a goat’s legs being removed with tree trimmers during what it said was Coast Guard training.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat, wrote in The Hill newspaper on April 27 that she had raised concerns with the Coast Guard.

She said most Americans are against the practice.

Articles

These 11 photos show how the military is helping those caught in Hurricane Harvey’s devastation

Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour. Over four feet of rain has been dumped on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and Houston is flooded — and it may be as bad as Katrina.


Thousands are trapped in the area, prompting a massive rescue effort, including support from the “Cajun Navy.” National Guard and Coast Guard units from as far away as San Diego, California, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are assisting.

Below are some of the photos showing the rescue efforts by the National Guard, which has been, as you might imagine, very busy.

This is what they are dealing with: An aerial view shows severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron prepare to deploy from the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Aug. 27 for Texas, where they will assist with rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The Airmen are specialists in swift-water and confined-space rescue. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton)

 

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

U.S. Air Force 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks take-off, Aug. 26 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The 23d Wing launched HC-130J Combat King IIs, HH-60G Pave Hawks, aircrew and other support personnel to preposition aircraft and airmen, if tasked to support Hurricane Harvey relief operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

In this aerial view, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers over the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

Texas National Guardsmen drive military vehicles down flooded streets while searching for stranded residents impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

Texas National Guardsmen work with emergency responders in assisting residents affected by Hurricane Harvey flooding during search and rescue operations near Victoria, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)

 

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

Texas National Guard soldiers aid a citizen in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

A Texas National Guardsman carries a resident from her home during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

Texas National Guard soldiers assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Aug. 27. (National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

A Texas Task Force responder helps hoist a stranded resident to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during search and rescue near Rockport, Holiday Beach and Port Aransas, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

A Texas National Guardsman shakes hands with a resident after assisting his family during Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston, Texas, Aug. 27. (Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West)

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

 

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text REDCROSS to 90999. The donation will be reflected in your next cell phone bill. You can also donate by going to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for a list of national charities assisting those whose lives have been altered by Hurricane Harvey.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Voice technology created the 1963 speech JFK never gave

The speech which President John F. Kennedy was due to deliver on the day of his assassination has been recreated with voice synthesis technology.


Kennedy was on his way to give the speech when he was shot dead while driving through Dallas with his presidential motorcade.

The text, however, survived. And voice synthesis experts have been able to bring the speech to life by synthesising 116,777 voice samples to create the illusion of a fluent performance.

Also read: Here are the top conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy assassination

Scottish voice company CereProc stitched together parts from 831 separate JFK recordings, each of which was around 0.4 seconds long, to form the full 2,590-word address. The project took two months.

The recording was published the morning of March 16, 2018, on the website of The Times newspaper, which commissioned the project.

A small excerpt can also be heard at the end of this video:

 

Kennedy’s speech (published here in full by the JFK Presidential Library), was dedicated in part to the recently-established Graduate Research Center of the Southwest.

It reads in part as a rebuke of populism, emphasising that the US must be “guided by the lights of learning and reason” and wary of populists with “swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

More: Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

Here’s an excerpt:

This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security.

 

In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What scientists found sifting through dust in outer space

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.”

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

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.

The 5 biggest stories around the military right now (Aug. 5 edition)

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.

Venus Dust Ring

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“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.

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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?

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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.

MIGHTY TRENDING

American infantry must overmatch its enemies in ground combat

American ground fighters must overmatch any potential adversary, now and in the future, the leaders of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force said April 11, 2018.

Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, who serves on the task force’s advisory board, spoke about the effort at the Association of the United States Army’s Sullivan Center.
The effort looks to improve the lethality of Army, Marine Corps and special operations light infantry units, and it is personally being pushed by Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.


Scales said the reason behind the task force comes down to three numbers: Ninety, four, and one. Ninety percent of Americans killed in combat are infantry, he noted. “They constitute four percent of uniformed personnel and receive just one percent of the DOD budget for training and equipping,” Scales said.

Combat overmatch

The United States maintains combat overmatch in every other portion of the battlefield — air, sea and space — yet the small infantry unit, the unit most likely to be under fire, is the one that comes closest to a fair fight with an enemy, Scales said.
Success in ground combat “lies not just with technical superiority, but with the human dimension,” Wilkie said.

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New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 114th Infantry (Air Assault) rush toward an objective during battle drills on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., April 9, 2018.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

“There is nothing more important than focusing our energies now on developing and nurturing the unique capabilities of human performance,” he added. “That means bringing fresh vigor, renewing our sense of urgency and enhancing the lethality of our front-line Army and Marine Corps units.”

Success comes from repetition, training

The task force will look at how the services select the right people for this crucial job, and what the services need to do to retain them. It also will examine how the services judge fitness and provide fitness. “Finally,” Wilkie said, “do we understand, as do our greatest athletic leaders, that success comes with constant repetition and training?”

Some aspects do not require legislation or extra money. Willke said the Army personnel system can be changed to keep units together and allow infantry personnel to bond with their unit mates. Programs can also be put in place so soldiers and Marines are actually training with their units and not performing an ancillary duty.

“Every plane and ship we purchase comes with sophisticated simulators to train personnel to overcome every conceivable contingency,” Wilkie said. “We would not buy a plane of a ship that was not packaged along with that technology. But we don’t do that for our ground forces.”

But it can be done, he added, and when combined with exercises at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California, or at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, this training can be invaluable with keeping infantry alive.

Wilkie and Scales said the task force will also look at weapons, protective systems, communications gear, unmanned tactical systems, doctrine and many other issues as it continues its work.

And all this will be done quickly, both men said, noting that Mattis is intensely interested in seeing this program succeed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The world is less peaceful now than at any point in the last decade

The world is less peaceful than at any point in the past 10 years as the number of refugees worldwide reached the highest level in modern history, according to a new report.

The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 12th annual Global Peace Index on June 6, 2018, which ranks 163 independent states and territories on their level of peacefulness.

The study looks at three factors to measure the state of peace in a state or territory: safety and security in society, extent of ongoing domestic or international conflict, and the degree of militarization.


The research found the world became 0.27% less peaceful over the course of 2017, which marked the fourth consecutive year global peace declined. Overall, 92 countries became less peaceful while 71 saw improvement over the past year.

Steve Killelea, the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, told Bloomberg, “Increased numbers of refugees, terrorism, and heightened political tensions were behind the deterioration.”

“Refugees on their own would make one of the world’s biggest nations,” Killelea added.

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German, French, and Spanish fighters of the YPG in northern Syria.

Refugees now account for about 1% of the global population. There are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including roughly 22.5 million refugees, according the UN’s refugee agency.

2018’s Global Peace Index also found the US became less peaceful in the last year and ranked 121st overall. Comparatively, it ranked at 114th in 2017 and 103rd in 2016.

According to the study, the five most peaceful countries in the world are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark. Meanwhile, the five least peaceful countries in the world are Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia.

The economic cost of the decline in peace across the world was estimated to be roughly $14.8 trillion in 2017, the report found, which is equivalent to 12.4% of the world’s economic activity or roughly $2,000 for every person.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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