Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Jamal Khashoggi: murder in the Saudi consulate

After days of denial, Saudi Arabia has now said that the writer Jamal Khashoggi died in a ‘fist fight’ at its Istanbul consulate. Martin Chulov pieces together events surrounding this death and the investigation, and links to Riyadh’s controversial crown prince.

The Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a homely looking place, much smaller than it seems, nestled into a quiet suburban street, and painted pastel yellow. Were it not for a giant steel door and a green flag flying on the roof – both sporting two large swords – it could easily be an Ottoman-era cottage like many nearby.

Police barriers to the left of the building mark a point where visitors gather before being allowed through to apply for visas or tend to official business. On 2 October one Saudi citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, stood at the fence line, pondering his next move. Khashoggi needed to deal with paperwork that proved he had the legal right to marry the woman nervously standing with him that day, his new Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He paced the barricade for around 20 minutes, removed his two phones from his blazer and gave them to Cengiz. “Wish me luck,” Khashoggi said. “This will be a birthday present,” she replied.

With those last fateful words, the Saudi dissident stepped past a barrier and walked towards the consulate. A camera on the roof of a nearby guard’s hut captured him purposefully approaching the steel gate. A waiting guard stepped aside and let him pass. It was 1:14pm; the last time Khashoggi was seen alive.

In the extraordinary 19 days since his disappearance and death, the fate of the 59-year old columnist and critic has steadily been pieced together. What happened inside the consulate walls has been traced to the doors of the Saudi royal court, sparked revulsion around the world, exposed the kingdom like no other event since the twin terror attacks of 9/11, and seen Washington and Riyadh shamelessly concoct a cover-up to protect their mutual interests and attempt to shield the powerful heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman.

In the early hours of Saturday, after unrelenting global scrutiny, Saudi Arabia finally offered its explanation of what happened to Khashoggi, abandoning two weeks of denials that it had played any role. Its version – that he was killed accidentally during a fist fight – came as Turkish investigators and global intelligence agencies prepared to table an entirely different account of a premeditated state-sanctioned hit; its conclusions drawn, not from a political fudge, but old-fashioned police work and cutting-edge spy tradecraft.

Turkey has also been busy cultivating the court of public opinion. Much of its case against Saudi Arabia has been laid bare through piecemeal leaks by authorities, which have described a conspiracy to assassinate one of Prince Mohammed’s most potent critics, in a building regarded by convention to be Saudi sovereign territory. The plot, the Turks allege, was put into motion within hours of Khashoggi attending the consulate four days earlier when he was turned away and asked to return the following Tuesday.

This is the story of the last few days of Khashoggi’s life; of the investigation that pieced together his fate, and of his legacy – much of it yet to be written – as the region, and beyond, grapple with the aftermath of a crude political hit gone spectacularly wrong.
When the door was closed behind him, Khashoggi was ushered to the second floor of the building, to the office of the consul general. Such a gesture would have befitted someone of his status in Saudi society – a man who had advised senior royals, including the former ambassador to London and Washington, and the intelligence chief, Turki al-Faisal.

Khashoggi would have had little reason to fear as he sat down in a guest chair opposite the desk of Mohammed al-Otaibi, the consul general who had personally called him and invited him back to finalise his papers, after the failed attempt the previous Friday.
Khashoggi, however, was not the only stranger in the building. Waiting in nearby rooms were 15 other men, all members of the state’s security apparatus. They had arrived in Istanbul earlier that day on two private jets, both of which were routinely leased by the Saudi government from a jet base at Riyadh airport. The jets’ tail markings were HZ-SK1 and HZ-SK2. Flight tracking software showed one of the planes landing in Istanbul just after 3am on 2 October. The second landed at Ataturk airport just after noon.

Nine men on the first flight checked into the Mövenpick hotel in the city’s Levent district, where they were caught on in-house cameras passing through security and checking in. From the top-floor windows, the men could almost see the nearby consulate.

Among the guests were Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a colonel who is attached to the crown prince’s security detail, and Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, the head of forensics in the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate. Later that morning, and before Khashoggi’s visit, Mutreb was filmed by the consulate’s security camera walking towards the door. Also believed to be with him are three other members of the crown prince’s personal detail, including Nayif Hassan al-Arifi, Mansour Othman Abahussein and Walid Abdullah al-Shihri.

By the time the arrivals had settled in, Turkish employees of the consulate were taking advantage of a surprise afternoon off. They had been sent home before noon after being told by Saudi bosses that an important diplomatic delegation was arriving for a meeting. The loyalties of those remaining in the building could not be questioned. The assembled hit squad was drawn from the most elite units of the Saudi security forces, whose fidelity had been repeatedly tested.

By the time the second planeload of passengers arrived at the consulate – not long before Khashoggi entered – what was about to take place was never going to be known beyond the building’s walls. Or so the assassins thought.
But in Turkey, and elsewhere, diplomatic missions can have ears.
Not long after Khashoggi entered the consul’s office, two men came into the room and dragged him away. Unbeknown to the Saudis, Turkish intelligence officials from the national spy agency, MIT, were listening in. Just how that happened has been the subject of much intrigue throughout the past fortnight, and has been central to the case against Riyadh.

Scenarios range from a bug placed in the consulate itself to a directional microphone focused on the building from outside – both technically within the realms of Turkey’s capabilities. Another possibility, being discussed in Turkey and elsewhere, is that some members of the hit squad recorded the abduction on their phones for trophy purposes, or to reveal back home. And that those recordings were either intercepted in real time or retrieved from at least one of the killers’ phones.

Whichever the case, Turkish officials soon had an audio soundtrack to a blatant and brutal murder inside the walls of the Saudi consulate, which has since become the bedrock of the case against Saudi Arabia.

Officials say the recording proves that Khashoggi was killed during seven horrific minutes in which he was first tortured, then mutilated, injected with a sedative, and finally dismembered.

According to the audio, a partial transcript of which was leaked last week to Yeni Safak, a pro-government newspaper, one of his killers is heard warning: “Shut up if you want to return to Saudi Arabia”.

As the mutilation starts, Tubaigy – the forensic scientist, who specialises in conducting autopsies – puts on headphones and is heard to say to his colleagues: “When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do that too.”

Khashoggi’s fingers were cut off while he was held down, the recording suggests. He was injected with a substance, which silenced him, then carried into another room – the third to be used in the gruesome killing – where he was lifted on to a meeting table then cut to pieces.

A Turkish official later said the Saudis had brought a bone saw to the consulate. “It is like Pulp Fiction,” the official told the New York Times.

On 5 October, three days after Khashoggi vanished, Turkey’s leadership, including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sat down in Ankara for a briefing from MIT’s chief Hakan Fidan and senior officers. Khashoggi had been butchered, they told the Turkish president, and they had incontrovertible proof.

Erdoğan had been friendly with the columnist. They shared a similar worldview, particularly of a role for political Islam in society, and he was aware of Khashoggi’s plans to set up a TV station in Istanbul, where he intended to relocate. After a year spent in Washington, where he had become a pointed critic of some aspects of Prince Mohammed’s reform programmes, Khashoggi wanted to start again, closer to home, his children, and a new wife. He was still planning to write columns for the Washington Post – maintaining the very platform and presence that had irritated the crown prince, but from a more familiar vantage point.

Senior Turkish officials say Erdoğan’s shock soon turned to anger. He told Fidan and others in the meeting to summon the Saudis, and share some of what they knew.

On Saturday 6 October the first meeting between Saudi and Turkish authorities took place. It did not go well. One official familiar with the meeting said the Saudis disavowed any knowledge of what had taken place. “They may have been truthful,” the official said. “This seemed to have been very tightly held and the people we spoke to might not have known.”

At midnight that day, with no response from Riyadh, Turkey played its first card, announcing to the Reuters news agency that it believed Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi consulate. Privately, officials began briefing that not only was he dead but his body had been cut up and carried away in bags.

The revelation set in motion a remarkable reaction. Wariness about Turkey’s scarcely believable claims soon gave way to a numbing realisation that Ankara had evidence and was prepared to use it. Names of the 15 Saudis who had travelled on passports using their real names were soon revealed. Selectively leaked images showed a black van parked outside the consulate entrance – of the type that investigators had said was used to carry Khashoggi’s remains to the nearby consul’s residence.

A still-frame of an apparent dummy run showing the van attempting to back into the consul’s underground garage the day before the hit was also made public – as was the fact that the consulate had since been repainted.
Ten days into the furore, Saudi’s monarch, King Salman, who has been largely disengaged since anointing his son as his successor 16 months ago, dispatched one of his most trusted envoys, Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca, to Ankara to meet with Erdoğan, a move widely viewed as the sidelined old guard being recommissioned to clean up the impetuous crown prince’s mess. “This is the way they used to do business,” a Turkish official said. “Send in a wise hand.”

Riyadh quickly released statements touting brotherly fraternity between two regional allies. But behind the scenes, things were not going well – at least not for the kingdom. “He was literally begging us for help,” the Turkish source said of Faisal. “They were really desperate.”

As the Turkish drip-feed continued, an element of revenge appeared to be driving it. This was the House of Saud’s death by a thousand cuts. Beyond a primal response though, has been a strategic objective. Erdoğan was not going to fold easily. Saudi Arabia’s belief that a cash strapped Turkish economy may drive Ankara’s calculations has proven ill-considered. A bounty to make the crisis go away is something that Riyadh could easily deal with, but Erdoğan has sought something far bigger – a chance to diminish a rival with a claim to speak for Sunni Islam and relaunch Turkey as an Islamic power base.
How to handle things has also been preoccupying Washington, increasingly desperate in its efforts to make the crisis disappear. Donald Trump has hitched many of his foreign policy ambitions to Prince Mohammed, whom he sees as a bulwark against Iran, a regional lifeline to Israel and an enthusiastic financier of the US economy.

Much of the US business elite has been enamoured by the crown prince and his social and economic reform programmes – and equally horrified by the revelations of the past week that end directly at his door. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been a regular in Prince Mohammed’s Diwan or court, as has Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, whose two-day trip to Riyadh and Ankara last week heralded the Saudi concession in the early hours of Saturday.

A US official in the region said Pompeo was met with a blanket denial in the Saudi capital and cold realpolitik in Ankara. Both he and the CIA, which he led until recently, have reportedly been played a tape of Khashoggi’s final moments, a recording so visceral and vivid that even Trump could no longer offer the crown prince cover.
The compromise, in which five Saudi officials have been blamed and two sacked – Prince Mohammed’s domestic enforcer, Saud al-Qahtani, and deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri – is being hailed in Washington as credible, but derided elsewhere as a face-saving scam.

“There is simply no way that MBS [Prince Mohammed] was oblivious to this, either before the fact, or after it,” said a former Saudi official now living in exile. “Not even in my day could this happen. To suggest that a control freak and tyrant like this was blindsided by well-meaning aides is beyond laughable.”

The first test of the compromise, which was imposed on a reluctant Riyadh by Washington, is how to account for the fact that not only was Khashoggi killed but his body mutilated and disposed of in pieces somewhere in Istanbul.

Other questions stand out: if the intention was to abduct or interrogate Khashoggi, why was a forensic expert, who specialises in dismembering bodies, sent to do the job? How do Turkish accounts of Khashoggi being overpowered and killed within minutes of entering the consulate square with claims that he died fighting his assailants off?
Perhaps overriding them all though are themes set to haunt the international community’s relationship with Mohammed bin Salman from this point on; does he have the temperament, credibility or awareness to start to recover from such an atrocity? And can he ever be a plausible partner again?

Turkish investigators are now searching forests in Istanbul for what remains of Khashoggi and expect to soon close their case. The country’s leaders, meanwhile, continue to weigh their options. They are yet to release the most incriminating aspects of the case against Saudi Arabia – particularly the recordings.

To do so could have devastating consequences that might affect regional security. In Washington, Trump appears to sense that his interests and those of his patron may yet be safeguarded if events are pulled back from the brink.

“We’ll see about that,” said a senior regional diplomat. “It’s fair to say that the world order died here along with Khashoggi. I’m dreading what comes next.”
Timeline
2 October
Jamal Khashoggi is recorded on CCTV entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at 1.14pm.

3 October
Saudi authorities confirm Khashoggi’s disappearance but insist he had left consulate. Turkish officials say he did not leave.

5 October
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, reiterates that Khashoggi is not inside the consulate.

6 October
Turkish police say Khashoggi was murdered inside consulate.

7 October
Senior Turkish officials say that a 15-man Saudi hit squad was “most certainly involved”.

8 October
Donald Trump declares that he is concerned about Khashoggi’s disappearance.

9 October
US intelligence reported to have intercepted communications by Saudi officials planning to abduct Khashoggi.

10 October
Trump reveals he has spoken to the Saudis about what he calls a “bad situation”.
14 October
US president says there will be “severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia is found to be involved.

16 October
Trump changes view and criticises the widespread outrage directed at Saudi Arabia.

17 October
Reports claim that Khashoggi’s killers severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered his body.

18 October
White House shifts position again. Trump threatens “very severe” consequences if Saudis responsible.

(This article has been reproduced from the Guardian newspaper dated 21 October 2016)

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters

solar_energy

The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political

Politics of climate change, sinking Bangladesh and floating houses

Climate change is real and permanent. There is no turning round as we have gone past the point of no-return. It can only get worse from here. Climate change is, therefore, an existential threat for our children and grandchildren for whom time is running out fast.

Floating house in BangladeshApparently, it isn’t a threat for those who abdicated leadership of a warmer world and yet formulate environment-damaging energy policies from the luxury of their cooler world—air-conditioned homes and offices. If they cared even a bit about their progeny, they wouldn’t be flying in ozone-layer-depleting private planes or riding fossil-fuel-guzzling stretched limos and SUVs.

A few world leaders led by Donald Trump believe that carbon dioxide makes the earth greener instead of creating climate crisis. Consequently, Trump deleted references to “climate change” from government websites, fired scientists from advisory boards and the Environmental Protection Agency. He seized on the uncertainty in climate models to reverse greenhouse gas emission regulations of the Obama administration and withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He even nonsensically blamed this year’s out-of-control California fires on environmental laws. Other climate change deniers are his bagful of deplorables, the well-paid operatives of organisations that take contributions from fossil fuel corporations and a colourful cast of self-styled “experts” who have made a living out of rejecting the scientific evidence of climate change.

They are perhaps not aware that one of the most alarming but reliable projections for global warming has been made by researchers at the prestigious Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford in California. The results of their research, based on a decade’s worth of satellite observations concerning the net balance between the amount of energy entering and leaving the atmosphere, have been published in the December 2017 issue of the high impact, peer-reviewed journal Nature. They concluded that if large emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated throughout the century, worldwide temperatures could rise nearly five degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

It is an undeniable fact that episodes of raging wildfires, high-category hurricanes, ferocious cyclones, floods of biblical proportions, deadly mudslides, severe droughts, bone-chilling Arctic blasts followed by lethal heatwaves and the melting of Arctic ice at a rate never before seen are effects of a sub-one degree rise in global temperature since 1880. Heaven only knows what will happen if we, as agreed upon by the 2016 Paris Agreement’s stakeholders, take the free pass of heating up our planet by two degrees before the end of this century.

Even a two-degree rise in global temperature would most likely set the stage for the greenhouse effect to spin out of control, eventually triggering a runaway greenhouse effect whose impacts would be cataclysmic, to say the least. Nevertheless, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that there is virtually no chance of a runaway greenhouse effect being induced by human activities, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still moving in the wrong direction.

What triggers a runaway greenhouse effect? The increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, two of the dominant greenhouse gases, would raise the global temperature which, in turn, would cause more water from the oceans to evaporate and carbon dioxide stored in the soil and oceans to bake out. This would be in addition to the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The positive feedback of continued emission of these greenhouse gases would ultimately snare our planet into a vicious cycle of a runaway greenhouse effect, which was responsible for raising the surface temperature of Venus to a blistering 480 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt lead.

One of the countries that is already paying a hefty price for the climate sins of industrial nations is Bangladesh. It is predicted that the two-degree boost in temperature and the subsequent rise of sea levels would sink the coastal areas of Bangladesh, thereby resulting in an unprecedented human tragedy. Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater which supplies drinking water for coastal regions and degraded farmlands, rendering them less fertile and at places completely barren.

Although engineering adaptations to climate change have been successful in other countries, such as the dikes constructed in the Netherlands, they won’t work in Bangladesh because the soils are sandy and constantly shifting. Thus, if the country does not want to see millions of her climate refugees migrating inland and ending up in decrepit slums, then the government should take a serious look at the “Dream House”—a flood-resistant floating house—built by a team of BRAC University students.

The concept of floating houses and floating villages is not new. There are many such villages in the world. They are communities with houses and other amenities of a town built on top of large raft-like structures or on stilts, as in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Floating houses in Bangladesh’s coastal areas could save the lives and livelihoods of millions from the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change. Bangladeshi farmers have already developed techniques for building floating farms, known as “dhaps,” with duck coops, fish enclosures and vegetable gardens anchored by ropes to the riverbanks where the water rises at least three metres during the monsoon season.
The arduous life of the people living in the floating dwellings that would gently rock and roll with the ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal would not only be a paragon of adapting to climate change but also a modern-day example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

 

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Bangladesh, Economic, International, Technical

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is

An education in sexism

The culture of casual sexism in schools has long-term detrimental effects on girls.
Growing up, it was not uncommon to find teachers calling on female students because the length of their skirt was “inappropriate” and could “distract” or “excite” their male peers, while boys wearing shorts which were the exact same length walked by without a second glance.

It took me years to realize that comments like these are not only unfair, but are also perpetuating rape culture through the sexualization and objectification of young girls — who, from as young as five or six, are being taught that if they show even a glimpse of their knees or shoulders, they are “asking” for male objectification and harassment.
Unfair dress-coding is only one example of the many acts of casual sexism that female students experience at school on an everyday basis.

For instance, female students are often told to ignore derogatory comments from their male peers by on-looking teachers, who wave off their complaints with a laugh, before telling them that “boys will be boys” or that “he’s only doing it because he likes you.”
There have been countless times when PE teachers have called on a “strong boy” to demonstrate to the class, or when a math teacher asked if a “smart young man” would be able to help solve the problem — discounting the dozens of girls in the class who were just as, if not more, capable.

While boys are praised for taking on leadership roles, winning awards, and receiving excellent grades, girls who are ambitious and hard-working are often told to stop “showing off” and to shy away from compliments, rather than accept due credit for their achievements.

Even in relatively progressive schools, this contradiction exists, and the reality is that in most schools, girls don’t automatically receive the credit they deserve from teachers and other students — but instead, have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to prove that they deserve recognition for their accomplishments.

It is crucial for schools to recognize that teaching young girls their achievements aren’t as valued as the male peers’ when they are younger not only limits them academically, but also has detrimental long-term effects, impacting their drive, ambition, and perception of themselves in the future. This culture of sexism that exists within our schools is perpetuated when students begin to internalize the comments made by their superiors and, whether consciously or subconsciously, begin to perpetuate this cycle of sexism themselves.

By high school, a large number of my female classmates were too afraid to challenge a classmate’s opinion, take on leadership roles, or even participate in class, out of fear that they would be labelled as “bossy” or a “know-it-all” by their peers. Furthermore, many female students who had participated in STEM activities in middle school drop out of these activities by high school, because they’ve been taught that there’s no point in participating in something that boys are just naturally “better” at.

It is the responsibility of schools to acknowledge that these latent prejudices exist, and that they are — whether consciously or not — being perpetuated by their students and faculty on an everyday basis.

Sexism and discrimination within schools has been an issue for decades, and is one that is not disappearing any time soon, and one that needs to be brought to light in order to end the cycle of systemic gender bias and discrimination that exists today.

 

Diya Kraybill is a freelance contributor from Singapore.