May 22, 2018

SpaceX launches NASA mission to track groundwater, ice sheets

The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft launches onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA.

NASA has two new eyes in the sky after SpaceX successfully deployed a pair of sensitive spacecrafts that can detect tiny changes in the Earth's gravitational field.

Why it matters: Known as the GRACE-FO mission, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, the satellites will provide scientists with crucial data for tracking climate change.

The details: The satellites, which were deployed atop a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. ET., are capable of detecting changes in groundwater availability worldwide, giving early warning to security agencies about potential areas of political instability due to potential conflict over natural resources.

  • The GRACE-FO mission, which is technically a joint mission between the U.S. and Germany, will also be used to answer critical questions about how quickly and extensively the planet's ice sheets are melting. The first GRACE mission helped scientists discover the quickening pace at which Greenland and parts of Antarctica are losing mass, which is raising sea levels worldwide.

Be smart: According to NASA, the twin satellites will follow each other in orbit around the Earth, separated by about 137 miles (220 km.) As they do so, they will send microwave signals to each other. Areas of slightly stronger gravity (more mass) as well as slightly weaker gravity will change this distance slightly. By using these changes, they will enable scientists to map water resources, ice sheets, and potentially discover other applications as well.

Go deeper: First map of global freshwater trends shows "human fingerprint."

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In photos: India says "Namaste Trump" as president arrives for visit

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraces President Trump upon his arrival at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on Monday. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump arrived with members of the U.S. first family at Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport in Ahmedabad, India, Monday for a two-day visit, local media footage shows.

Why it matters: The countries are forging deeper ties as India’s location, size and economic growth making it the "obvious counterweight to China" for American policymakers, per Axios' Dave Lawler and Zachary Basu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is demonstrating the importance of the visit by holding a massive "Namaste Trump Rally" at the world's largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, northwest India.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 14 mins ago - World

Concern over coronavirus spread: Italy, South Korea and Iran report more cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran jumped on Sunday as infections in mainland China continued to grow, the latest figures show.

The big picture: As South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures amid rising case numbers, World Health Organization officials expressed concern about infections with no clear link to China. COVID-19 has killed at least 2,619 people and infected almost 80,000 others, with all but 27 deaths occurring in mainland China.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Sanders reveals free childcare plan for preschoolers

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday a new plan to guarantee free child care and pre-kindergarten to all American children from infancy to age four.

Details: In the wide-ranging interview, Sanders told Anderson Cooper he planned to pay for universal childcare with a wealth tax. "It's taxes on billionaires," he said.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy