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NASA Confirms Mars Rover Opportunity Is Dead

Robot the size of a golf buggy has sent data to Earth for 15 years but fell silent eight months ago and Nasa says mission is complete

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Nasa confirms Mars rover Opportunity is dead” was written by Adam Gabbatt and Nicola Davis, for The Guardian on Wednesday 13th February 2019 20.19 UTC

Nasa declared the 15-year mission of the veteran Mars rover Opportunity finally over on Wednesday, crediting the robot as having “transformed our understanding of our planet”.

The golf buggy-sized vehicle last made contact with Earth eight months ago, after being caught in a global dust storm.

Announcing the mission’s end, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa, said the rover had “remained silent” after a last-ditch effort to contact Opportunity on Tuesday.

Despite the loss, the mood at the press conference at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was one of celebration on Wednesday.

“I’m standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude to declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Zurbuchen said.

“It transformed our understanding of our planet, everything we do and think about in our planetary neighborhood with Mars and elsewhere relates to the research from that and the engineering breakthroughs that came from that.”

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 shortly after its twin – a rover called Spirit. Together, the pair were part of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rover programme. However, the Spirit got stuck in soil in 2009 and was declared defunct in 2011.

By contrast, Opportunity has continued to trundle over the surface of Mars and send back data to Earth, acting as a sort of remote geologist.

John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that epic journey had been due to a “phenomenal” effort and had “greatly expanded our understanding of the red planet”.

Over the 15 years it has spent on Mars, Opportunity has clocked up more than 45km (28 miles) – despite being designed to travel only 1,006 metres and last 90 Martian days.

“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said.

“What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays.

“It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”

Opportunity was finally done in by a “historic” dust storm, said Abigail Fraeman, MER deputy project scientist. Fraeman said the storm had turned the sky so dark that Opportunity “couldn’t see the sun and the solar panels couldn’t recharge the battery”.

During its mission, the rover found tiny iron-rich spheres nicknamed “blueberries” at the crater that suggested a wet past, while its analyses of clay minerals near the Endeavour crater confirmed parts of Mars were once covered in neutral water, and could have been a habitable environment. It also came across the first meteorite ever to be discovered on another planet. In addition, the rover has sent back stunning images, including capturing a Martian “dust devil” twisting across the planet’s surface and panoramic shots that provided breathtaking views of Martian craters.

Another aspect of Opportunity’s legacy is the number of people who were inspired to pursue careers in science through following the rover’s trek, Fraeman said.

“There really are hundreds if not thousands of students who, just like me, witnessed these rovers and followed along their mission, from the images released to the public over the last 15 years and then because of that went on to pursue careers in science.”

“It has been a fantastically successful mission which has completely outlived its shelf life,” said Professor Andrew Coates, a planetary scientist at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

“One of those core things about Opportunity was it landed in this crater which was in sight of sedimentary types of rocks and that was the first time that sort of thing had been seen on Mars,” said Coates. “People compared it at the time to an interplanetary hole in one.”

Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester, who is part of the team working on Nasa’s continuing Curiosity rover project and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission, said Opportunity had a fantastic roll call of achievements. He added that with its twin the rover had been key in changing the idea of Mars from being a lump of basalt in space to having a very different geological history, showing the importance of lakes and other features.

“It really sort of [turned] upside down our view of Mars and how it has evolved,” he said. “It was showing us what the Mars crust is made of.”

Coates, who is also lead scientist for the panoramic camera instrument on the ExoMars rover – recently named Rosalind Franklin – which is set to be launched in 2020, said the discoveries of Opportunity, and later the Curiosity rover, have been important for the development of new missions.

“The next step now of course is to drill and look for signs of life, and that is exactly what we are doing with the ExoMars rover, drilling up to 2 metres underneath the surface,” he said.

The final attempt at communication with Opportunity on Tuesday night was, it seems, an emotional affair. Dr Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist who worked on the mission, tweeted: “There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared.”

Mike Seibert, who was also part of the team, paid tribute to the rover nicknamed “Oppy”, saying “Goodbye old friend” and noting that the rover was the longest lasting surface mission yet.

Coates said Opportunity’s demise was bittersweet. “It is a matter of both celebration for what it was able to achieve and in the broad context of Mars exploration, but also tinged with sadness, losing an old friend.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Irish tourist accused of defacing Rome’s Colosseum

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An Irish tourist has been accused of vandalizing Rome’s Colosseum after security staff spotted him allegedly carving his initials into the ancient Italian structure.

The Carabinieri police said the 32-year-old man was caught by the Colosseum’s private security on Monday and immediately reported to officers.

The man’s two initials, about 6 centimeters (2 inches) high, were said to have been carved with a metal point on a pillar of the first floor of the 2,000-year-old monument.

The Colosseum, considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, is a World Heritage Site, along with 54 other Italian sites that comprise the city’s historic center.

The unnamed man is accused of damaging a historical and artistic landmark, the Carabinieri confirmed to CNN, a crime according to Italian law. He could face a hefty penalty if convicted.

The crime is punishable with up to one year in prison or a fine of no less than 2,065 euros ($2,400).

“The Colosseum, like any monument that represents the history of all of us, must be preserved and handed over to future generations,” archaeologist Federica Rinaldi, responsible for the ancient Roman amphitheater, said to CNN.

Back in 2014 a Russian tourist was fined 20,000 euros for carving the letter “K” on a section of brickwork.

Construction on the Colosseum, believed to be the largest amphitheater in the world, began sometime between 70 and 72 CE under the Flavian emperors. It seated around 50,000 spectators who came to watch gladiators in combat with each other and dangerous animals.

“It is a monument that deserves everyone’s respect because it belongs to everyone, and it must remain so,” Rinaldi said.

“Carving one’s initials, in addition to being a crime, seems to be a gesture of those who want to appropriate the monument. Better take a selfie!”

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TRUMP INTENDS TO NOMINATE AMY CONEY BARRETT FOR SUPREME COURT

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 President Donald Trump intends to choose Amy Coney Barrett to be the new Supreme Court justice, according to multiple senior Republican sources with knowledge of the process.

In conversations with some senior Republican allies on the Hill, the White House is indicating that Barrett, a federal appellate judge and Notre Dame law professor, is the intended nominee, multiple sources said.

All sources cautioned that until it is announced by the President, there is always the possibility that Trump makes a last-minute change but the expectation is Barrett is the choice. He is scheduled to make the announcement on Saturday afternoon.

A former law clerk to the late right-wing beacon Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett would tilt the balance of power on the court further to the right, possibly ahead of a consequential case on health care to be argued the week after Election Day. If her Senate confirmation is successful before the November election, the appointment would mark Trump’s third Supreme Court pick in one presidential term, cementing a conservative stronghold in the court for a generation.

She has been the leading choice throughout the week, since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. She is the only potential nominee known to have met with the President in person, according to two of the sources. The President did not formally interview any other candidates for the Supreme Court justice vacancy aside from Barrett, according to a person familiar with the matter, despite saying Monday he’d spoken with a few candidates.

One source said Trump was familiar with Barrett already and he met with her since she was a top contender the last time there was a Supreme Court vacancy, when the President chose Justice Brett Kavanaugh instead.

If Barrett is nominated, she is expected to be on Capitol Hill Tuesday to begin courtesy calls and will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP sources said.

Barrett’s views on Second Amendment gun rights, immigration and abortion 

Barrett was seen at her South Bend, Indiana, home on Friday. It was not clear if Barrett had been told she is the choice. Often that is done as late as possible to maintain secrecy around the announcement.

“The machinery is in motion,” one of the sources said. In previous nomination announcements, the White House had multiple rollouts planned in case the President made a last-minute decision to switch to another candidate. But one source said it would be surprising if there were a change since allies are already being told.

The White House declined to comment.

“She was the plan all along. She’s the most distinguished and qualified by traditional measures. She has the strongest support among the legal conservatives who have dedicated their lives to the court. She will contribute most to the court’s jurisprudence in the years and decades to come,” according to a former senior administration official familiar with the process.

The mother of seven children, Barrett, now 48, was confirmed in 2017 for her current judgeship on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Born in New Orleans in 1972 and a 1997 Notre Dame law graduate, Barrett worked in private practice and then became a law professor, settling at Notre Dame in 2002.

Advocates on the right have backed her possible nomination because of her writings on faith and the law. Religious conservatives were especially energized for Barrett when, during her 2017 confirmation, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California suggested to her that the “dogma lives loudly within you.” Barrett supporters believed the nominee was being disparaged for her Catholicism.

McConnell has made clear in conversations with Trump and White House counsel Pat Cipollone that the Senate GOP conference would be comfortable with Barrett, two people with knowledge of the conversations told CNN earlier this week. Sen. Todd Young, who hails from Barrett’s home state of Indiana and leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, has also been an advocate, the people said.

The President indicated he has spoken to multiple candidates, but the White House has not been willing to say if other conversations were in person.

Barrett was at the White House on Monday and Tuesday of this week. She impressed the President and others during the initial meetings, two sources told CNN earlier this week.

This story has been updated with additional developments. 

The-CNN-Wire
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US Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Clinic Protest Zone Limits In Chicago, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.

The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.

The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.

Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.

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