Showing posts with label France Related. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France Related. Show all posts

21 November 2019

Seventeenth Century French Artifact Arrives In Seattle For An Immersive Exhibition

By donning a HoloLens, guests are taken into a 15- to 20-minute experience where the Mont-Saint-Michel model comes to life.
By donning a HoloLens, guests are taken into a 15- to 20-minute experience where the Mont-Saint-Michel model comes to life.
Seattle's Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) and Microsoft Corp. on Thursday announced the opening of a new exhibit, "Mont-Saint-Michel: Digital Perspectives on the Model," which features a unique blend of 17th and 21st century technology.

Powered by Microsoft AI and mixed-reality technology as well as the recently released HoloLens 2 device, the interactive exhibition transports visitors into a holographic tour of the picturesque Mont-Saint-Michel, a medieval monastery perched atop a remote tidal island off the coast of Normandy, France.

The virtual experience is complemented by a physical relief map of the Mont-Saint-Michel, an intricate, three-dimensional model of the landmark. Entirely crafted by hand in the 1600s by the resident Benedictine monks, the 1/144-scale model precisely depicts the monument in such intricate detail that maps like this were considered valuable strategic tools to leaders like Napoleon and King Louis XIV, who considered the maps military secrets and hid them from public view.
"The Museum of History & Industry is honored to share this icon of world history, enhanced by leading-edge technology, to create a unique experience born of innovations both past and present," said Leonard Garfield, MOHAI's executive director. "More than 300 years separate the remarkable relief map and today, but the persistent human drive toward invention and creativity bridges those years, reflecting the unbroken quest for greater understanding and appreciation of the world around us."
The opening of the exhibit is timed with the 40th anniversary of the Mont-Saint-Michel being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the first time the relief map, as well as the mixed-reality experience, has been in North America.
"The relief maps were technological marvels of Louis XIV and Napoleon's time. It's exciting to see how we can blend old and new technology to unlock the hidden treasures of history, especially for younger generations," said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. "This exhibit provides a unique model for preserving cultural heritage around the world, something Microsoft is committed to through our AI for Good program."
The Mont-Saint-Michel experience is an example of Microsoft's AI for Cultural Heritage program, which aims to leverage the power of AI to empower people and organizations dedicated to the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage. 

Microsoft is working with nonprofits, universities and governments around the world to use AI to help preserve the languages we speak, the places we live and the artifacts we treasure. For example, earlier today Microsoft announced it is working with experts in New Zealand to include te reo Māori in its Microsoft Translator application, which will enable instant translations of text from more than 60 languages into te reo Māori and vice versa. This will be one of the first indigenous languages to use the latest machine learning translation technology to help make the language accessible to as many people as possible. 

  • The AI for Cultural Heritage program is the fourth pillar of Microsoft's AI for Good portfolio, a five-year commitment to use AI to tackle some of society's biggest challenges.
The relief map is on loan to MOHAI from the Musée des Plans-Reliefs in Paris, which houses more than 100 historically significant and well-preserved relief maps. The relief map of Mont-Saint-Michel is considered the museum's crown jewel.
"One of the challenges in the history of art is the relationship with the public. To gain the attention, to capture the view or the interest of the public, is not always evident," said Emmanuel Starcky, director, Musée des Plans-Reliefs. "With the HoloLens technology, you have now the possibility to realize immersive experiences in art, where you still see the reality but have more information about it. It will be a unique experience for the American public to discover the relief map, its condition in the 17th century and its evolution through three centuries, as well as reflect on the purpose of those relief maps."
Drawing from hundreds of thousands of detailed images, Iconem, a leader in the digital preservation of cultural heritage sites, used Microsoft AI to create a photorealistic 3D digital model of the historic structure. Then, French mixed-reality specialists at HoloForge Interactive developed a unique Microsoft HoloLens experience to draw people into the artifact like never before.

  • The "Mont-Saint-Michel: Digital Perspectives on the Model" exhibit, including both the original relief map and mixed-reality experience, will be on display at MOHAI Nov. 23, 2019 through Jan. 26, 2020.
SOURCE: Microsoft Corp.

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22 March 2019

Why Emmanuel Macron's Plan For A European Agency To Fend Off Fake News Makes Sense

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron (EPA/Ludovic Marin)
When French president Emmanuel Macron sent an open letter to the people of Europe, he said their first freedom is democratic – “the freedom to choose our leaders as foreign powers seek to influence our vote at each election”. He went on to propose establishing a European agency to protect this right. The idea would be to provide European states with experts to help them fend off cyberattacks and other kinds of threats to their elections.

It’s clear that Europe does indeed need an agency of this kind. There is significant evidence that the cyber-attacks and misinformation campaigns that targeted the 2016 US presidential election were not an isolated incident. Nor is the phenomenon geographically limited to the US.

There have been allegations of Russian meddling in the UK’s Brexit referendum and of fake news being spread in the run up to the unofficial referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain in 2017.

In Germany, state agencies have accused Russia of hacking into state computer systems in the run up to parliamentary elections. Concerns have been raised about misinformation being spread on social media in Estonia, Lithuania and Taiwan. And of course, the topic is important to Macron, who saw his emails hacked and leaked online just hours before his second round presidential election run off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

The modus operandi of most of these incidents has been almost identical – although the actors behind the operations are becoming more diverse. Russia was the earliest adopter but Taiwanese officials claim that China has begun to employ similar means towards their citizens. And as Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries develop cyber-capabilities, they are almost certain to soon follow suit.

International threat

It’s clear that all European member states, regardless of their size, are potential targets. The same strategy – steal political intelligence through cyber-attacks, leak it online to sew discord and doubt during the run up to key democratic events – is just as viable a tool of power politics in Montenegro as it is in Germany. This adds weight to Macron’s argument that the response to this problem must come from the European level.

Equally, applying a technical, legislative solution in one EU nation won’t be enough to negate the risk. Twitter and Facebook operate across borders so the response can only be effective if it does too.

The global nature of companies like Facebook and Twitter, whose platforms are the delivery systems of these attacks on democratic processes, poses another problem which is better suited to an EU-driven response. In much the same way that trade deals negotiated on behalf of multinational blocs can often lead to better terms than those sought by individual nations alone, it’s easier for an international institution to force transnational businesses like Facebook to change their ways or accept responsibility for a problem than it would be for an individual country working alone.

The difficulties faced by British parliamentary committees when trying to force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to attend evidence hearings is a striking example of this. Zuckerberg repeatedly evaded them. Even when the UK worked in partnership with Canada, he resisted. An agency representing the economic and global power of the whole EU might have better luck.

Sharing knowledge

Working together also provides European nations with the opportunity learn from each other. Lithuania, for example, has taken an interesting approach by combining military and civilian infrastructures in its counter strategy. Military personnel work alongside journalists and political commentators to directly engage with fake news. They act as fact checkers and censors, removing potentially destabilising stories.

It’s early days for this approach but it does appear to be effective, at least within the Lithuanian or Baltic context. Adapting it to the European level will inevitably raise questions about censorship but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt even if the technique is not adopted wholesale.

Due to their geographical location and the politics of their region, states like Lithuania and Estonia have been exposed to disinformation of this kind for longer, which has arguably given them a head start on thinking about a solution. This makes them ideally placed to provide the context that is still lacking in the European political debate. While everyone else is just waking up to the concept of the role and threat posed by information operations of this type, these countries are not only aware but have already been educating their citizens about this threat for years.

Emmanuel Macron meets with Mark Zuckerberg in 2018
Emmanuel Macron meets with Mark Zuckerberg in 2018. (EPA)
Individual countries have been developing their own approaches to the kinds of problems Macron is talking about. But bringing these efforts together under a single, central body capable of pooling wisdom and expert led resources would be a significant step. Whether Macron can make it work, though, is a different matter. The French president’s vision will require a significant pooling of political will against a poorly defined threat.

Europe is seeking to deal with a number of crisis, small and large, some of which have been amplified or brought on by the very risks that this agency would seek to mitigate. Russian troll accounts have fanned the fires of the Gilet Jaunes riots in France, for example. Amid disagreement over so many other issues in Europe, forming an agency with a clear, shared role may prove an uphill struggle.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:

Alexi Drew, Research Associate, King's College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

1 March 2019

UNICEF: 'Alarming Global Surge Of Measles Cases A Growing Threat To Children '

On 9 February 2019 in Yemen, children vaccinated in Aden during a mobile Measles and Rubella vaccination campaign
On 9 February 2019 in Yemen, children vaccinated in Aden during a mobile Measles and Rubella vaccination campaign. © UNICEF/UN0284426/Fadhel (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)
UNICEF warned today that global cases of measles are surging to alarmingly high levels, led by ten countries accounting for more than 74 per cent of the total increase, and several others that had previously been declared measles free.

Countries with ten highest increases in cases between 2017 & 2018

  1. Ukraine: 30,338
  2. Philippines: 13,192
  3. Brazil: 10,262
  4. Yemen: 6,641
  5. Venezuela: 4,916
  6. Serbia: 4,355
  7. Madagascar: 4,307
  8. Sudan: 3,496
  9. Thailand: 2,758
  10. France: 2,269  
Globally, 98 countries reported more cases of measles in 2018 compared to 2017, eroding progress against this highly preventable, but potentially deadly disease.
"Vaccines work. They save millions of lives a year and are an important reason why more children today survive," said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada.
Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil saw the largest increases in measles cases from 2017 to 2018. In Ukraine alone, there were 35,120 cases of measles in 2018. According to the government, another 24,042 people were infected just in the first two months of 2019. In the Philippines so far this year, there have been 12,736 measles cases and 203 deaths, compared to 15,599 cases in the whole of 2018.
"This is a wake-up call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades," said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF's Executive Director. "These cases haven't happened overnight. Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow."
Measles is highly contagious, more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or influenza. The virus can be contracted by someone up to two hours after an infected person has left a room. It spreads through air and infects the respiratory tract, potentially killing malnourished children or babies too young to be vaccinated. Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.
In response to a recent outbreak of measles in British Columbia, Morley added: "Canada must invest in comprehensive monitoring and reporting to close the data gap in vaccination rates and identify populations at risk during outbreaks. We applaud the commitment in mid-February by Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, to tackle misinformation around vaccinations."

UNICEFs global response

In response to these outbreaks, UNICEF and its partners are supporting governments to urgently reach millions of children in countries around the globe. For example:
  • In Ukraine, UNICEF has provided ongoing support to accelerate routine immunization across the country and address vaccine hesitancy, including additional efforts to stop the most recent outbreak that has claimed 30 lives since 2017. In February, the Ministry of Health, with UNICEF's support, launched an immunization drive at schools and clinics in the worst-hit Lviv region in western Ukraine, where negative attitudes toward immunization, and previous shortages in vaccine supply, have resulted in low vaccination rates.
  • In the Philippines, the government, with support from UNICEF and partners, will conduct a campaign to vaccinate 9 million children against measles across 17 regions. Using social media, campaigners plan to encourage apprehensive parents, and health workers.
  • In Brazil, from August to September 2018, the government carried out a campaign against polio and measles, targeting more than 11 million children under five. UNICEF encouraged people to get vaccinated, and trained health monitors working in migrant shelters for Venezuelans. UNICEF has included the measles vaccine as part of the Municipal Seal programme that covers 1,924 municipalities.
  • In Yemen, where years of conflict led to an outbreak, local authorities with support from UNICEF, WHO and GAVI vaccinated more than 11.5 million children in February.
  • In Madagascar, from 3 September to 21 February, 76,871 people were infected by measles and 928 died, a majority of which were children. In January, the government, with support of partners including UNICEF, launched an immunization campaign to target all 114 districts. Over 2 million children were immunized in 25 districts. In February, 1.4 million children were vaccinated, with another 3.9 million more to follow in March.
"As one of the largest donors of vaccines in the world, Canada has long shown its leadership for immunizing children, which plays a key role in preventing life-threatening illnesses such as polio, pneumonia, tetanus and diarrheal disease," added Morley.

Notable reported measles cases in 2018 in countries with no reported cases in 2017

  • Brazil: 10,262
  • Moldova: 312
  • Montenegro: 203
  • Colombia: 188
  • Timor-Leste: 59
  • Peru: 38
  • Chile: 23
  • Uzbekistan: 17
Poor health infrastructure, civil strife, low community awareness, complacency and vaccine hesitancy in some cases have led to these outbreaks in both developed and developing countries. For example, in the United States, the number of measles cases increased six-fold between 2017 and 2018, reaching 791 cases. More recently, the U.S. has seen outbreaks in New York and Washington state.
"Almost all of these cases are preventable, and yet children are getting infected even in places where there is simply no excuse," said Fore. "Measles may be the disease, but, all too often, the real infection is misinformation, mistrust and complacency. We must do more to accurately inform every parent, to help us safely vaccinate every child."

To fight measles, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, and parents to do more to contain the disease by:

  • Understanding that vaccines are safe and effective and can save a child's life
  • Vaccinating all children between the ages of six months to five years during outbreaks
  • Training and equipping health workers so they can provide quality services
  • Strengthening immunization programmes to deliver all life-saving vaccines

About the Measles and Rubella Initiative:

UNICEF is part of the Measles and Rubella Initiative, a private-public partnership of five global partners including WHO, CDC, United Nations Foundation and American Red Cross that has been spearheading a global push towards measles and rubella elimination.


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25 February 2019

Facebook: Issue Corrections To Fake News! [Petition]

this photo went viral in France as a symbol of police brutality... but it's completely fake!
This photo went viral in France as a symbol of police brutality... but it's completely fake!
Dear friends,
This shocking photo of a young woman, left beaten and bleeding by police at a protest, went viral on social media in France. 
It’s the sort of thing Avaaz might launch an urgent campaign on. But there’s just one problem -- the image has nothing to do with France. It was taken in Madrid, years ago. It’s fake. Untrue. A lie.

And it’s dangerous.

Disinformation like this has the power to turn protests violent, destroy trust in our democracies and make us hate, even kill each other. But there's a simple solution to this threat: distribute corrections to dangerous fake news -- to EVERYONE who has seen it!

Avaaz has pitched the idea to key decision-makers all over the world, and many of them love it. Facebook is sensitive to its public image, and Avaaz staff are meeting top executives there this week -- let's get massive public backing from people everywhere for them to correct the record on fake news!

⏩ Tell Facebook: Correct the Record! ⏪
In many countries newspapers are required to issue corrections if they print false information -- why shouldn’t the same rules apply to Facebook and Twitter, who reach many times more people?

This isn’t about censorship -- no content would be taken down or deleted. Instead, the social media companies would make sure people who had been given false information were provided with the full facts so they can make informed decisions.

The Avaaz team has pitched this idea to politicians across the planet, as well as regulators, experts, academics, free speech advocates, and to social media executives at all the major platforms. Most of them see that this could really work, but it's still missing massive public demand to make it happen.

If Facebook moves, others will follow. Sign the petition calling on Facebook to correct the record on fake news, and when this is huge, we’ll deliver our voices direct to Facebook and to lawmakers all over the world:

⏩ Tell Facebook: Correct the Record! ⏪
Armies of bots and trolls, often bought and paid for by billionaires and governments, thrive on a social media drowning in their lies. They'll fiercely attack our effort. But Avaaz has always stood for the authentic voice of the people, let's make sure that voice gets heard loud and clear, before more lies are spread.

With hope and determination,

Loup Dargent

On behalf of Christoph, Luca, Martyna, Alice, Risalat, Fadi, Ricken, and the rest of the Avaaz team

More Information:

The Petition:

To Facebook, Twitter, and all technology platforms:

As citizens across the world, we urgently call on you to 'Correct the Record' -- by working with independent fact checkers to show effective corrections to each and every person who sees verifiably false or misleading content on your platform. It’s the best thing you can do to restore public trust and protect democracy and freedom of speech.

14 December 2018

UK MPs Call for Ban on Human Consumption of Dog Meat Following USA Ban

The drawing of WDA of Sully, the loyal service dog of former US President George HW Bush, to celebrate the passing of legal ban of dog meat consumption
The drawing of WDA of Sully, the loyal service dog of former US President George HW Bush, to celebrate the passing of legal ban of dog meat consumption
World Dog Alliance (WDA), which aims to push forward legislation in 100 countries consecutively, is happy to announce that the U.S. House of Representatives' vote through legislation in the Farm Bill, which outlaws the human consumption of dog and cat meat in America, has prompted cross-party support in the U.K. from Members of Parliament who also want to see the practice banned in the U.K. 
The U.K. government has stated previously that it would look closely at the decision taken in the U.S. Now that the U.S. legislation has passed, the World Dog Alliance is urging the government to make sure the U.K. remains a world leader in animal welfare by introducing a U.K. ban. 
The amendment to the U.S. Farm Bill states that: "No person may knowingly slaughter a dog or cat for human consumption."
⏩ Those who violate the law will be subject to a fine of up to $5,000
U.S. President Donald Trump will host the signing ceremony of the Farm Bill at the White House within 10 days following the passage of the bill. 
The passing of the U.S. Farm Bill highlights the country's commitment to outlawing the practice globally and cements the USA as a global champion of animal welfare.
"The mission of the World Dog Alliance has always been to not only legally ban the consumption of dog meat, but to also change attitudes and help save canine lives."- Genlin, the founder of World Dog Alliance
The legislation signifies success for international charity World Dog Alliance, which has been driving the campaign to outlaw the practice globally. 
There is no law against the consumption of dog meat in the U.K. While there have been no cases of dog meat consumption in the U.K., the WDA is calling for legislative change that will close the legal loophole and join the USA in outlawing the horrific practice. The WDA believes that outlawing the practice in the U.K. will help with their campaign to ban the practice in countries where it takes place. 
The legal ban of dog meat consumption enables the U.S. to acquire the leading position of the U.S. in fighting for animal welfare and defending morality. This sets the direction of human progress and lays one pivotal milestone of animal protection.
Dog meat ban: MPs call for UK to follow the US in outlawing the practice
Dog meat ban: MPs call for UK to follow the US in outlawing the practice (Via BBC)
Extract from The Bang of the Gavel:
US legislation of banning dog meat consumption will influence 100 countries

World Dog Alliance was established in 2014, aiming at bring legislation of banning dog meat consumption into reality, creating a trend of such ban in the globe and changing the destiny of 30 million dogs which are to consumed as food per year. After the passage of a legal ban on dog meat consumption, WDA will further its persuasion on the Committee on Foreign Affairs to echo with the bill of H. Res. 401 of ‘urging all nations to outlaw the dog and cat meat trade and to enforce existing laws against such trade’. In the meantime, WDA is initiating movements to ban dog meat consumption in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and China. 

The United Kingdom
In the UK, it is legal to consume dog meat if one kills that dog in a humane way. Such loophole in the UK, a country which is relatively advanced when it comes to the protection of animal welfare, is shocking and unbelievable. While watching closely over the progress of legislation in the US, WDA announced to the media in the United Kingdom that it would promote the legislation of banning dog meat consumption on 6th August, sparking coverage and heated discussion from different media like The Sun and Daily Mail. Such gesture inspired members of parliament to defend Britain’s leading status in animal protection and stimulated waves of opinions to legislate on this issue. Even the Prime Minister Theresa May herself also made a statement, indicating that the UK would soon begin the legislation process after the US in a bid to provide comprehensive protection to British people’s favorite companion. The movement in Britain aims at blocking legal loopholes. WDA hosted an event for parliament members with over 20 parliament members attending. It is expected an independent bill will be proposed in January, 2019.

There are also loopholes regarding consuming dog meat in France. France only limits illegal slaughtering so it is not illegal to eat dog in France. In 1870, there were shops selling specifically dog meat in France and there are also alleged cases of eating dog meat nowadays. The habit of consuming dog meat still exists in French Polynesia. Every year on the French National Day, people in Tahiti will kill and eat dogs for celebration. WDA will meet with the vice president of the Groupe d'études condition animale, Typhanie Degois, in January 2019 to promote the amendment of the legislation to add banning of dog meat consumption.

Little do people know that Japan is a country where it is legal to eat dog meat. There are more than 100 restaurants, supermarkets and frozen meat merchants selling dog meat in Japan. The official records of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have data on imported dog meat for the past 15 years. The World Dog Alliance first grasped the information on imported Japanese dog meat, and then went to Nishikawakuchi, Ikebukuro, Saitama, Japan to record the supply of dog meat in restaurants and stores, and sent it to Senator Oshima Kyushu as evidence for the debate in the parliament. It is expected that with the joint effort of parliament members and animal protection groups, the legislative process of banning dog meat consumption in Japan can be completed before 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

90% of Vietnamese love to eat dog meat, and even think that it is necessary to abuse the dog to death to make the meat tastier. The prevalent views asking for a legal ban in the US and UK, as well as their criticism against such poor behaviour, led to a potential proposal of banning the consumption of dog meat in Hanoi by the municipal government. The World Dog Alliance will meet with the Director of the Hanoi Municipal Government and Veterinary Bureau in March 2019, hoping to implement law on full ban of dog meat consumption in Hanoi in 2021.

South Korea
60% of South Koreans consume dog meat, and there are more than 2,000 dog farms in the country, slaughtering 5 million dogs a year. Although young people in South Korea loathe eating dog meat, there is still no legal ban on treating dogs as food. Fortunately, under the unremitting efforts of the World Dog Alliance and the local animal protection group CARE, South Korea’s first in ever case of a dog farm farmer was sentenced for killing a dog. The Bucheon City Court ruled that "meat consumption is not a legitimate reason to kill a dog", indicating that dogs are no longer considered as economic animals for slaughtering. The Watchdog Plan which WDA and CARE carry out together continues to rectify illegal farm in different cities. WDA also proactively work with the Korean Cangyuan to promote amending regulations to prevent eating dog in law.

There is only 20% of the Chinese population which treats dogs as food and they mostly live in second- and third-tier cities. There are no shops selling dog meat in civilized cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Therefore, the World Dog Alliance recommends to push forward legislation against eating dog meat in Shanghai in 2019 as an example to the entire country. At the same time, WDA also publishes a white paper on increasing the punishment of stealing dogs in a hope to put an end to the black industry chain of dog meat.

Along with the success of legislation in the US, the World Dog Alliance has now planned a development blue print covering 100 countries including the UK, France, Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union, the Scandinavia, and the French overseas provinces. The founder of WDA, Genlin, states that: “the mission of World Dog Alliance has proceeded to the second stage from simply banning dog meat consumption legally to changing human society and saving canine lives. If the humankind wants to create an ecological world in which we can peacefully live all animals, we have to start with respecting the right of living of o companion animal and escalating such respect to a common norm. There should be no exception!
For the Yulin dog meat festival, some dogs are stolen from their owners and beaten or bled to death. Then they’re hung upside down from hooks, a slit cut from their anus and skin ripped off their bodies, and sold to be eaten
For the Yulin dog meat festival, some dogs are stolen from their owners and beaten or bled to death. Then they’re hung upside down from hooks, a slit cut from their anus and skin ripped off their bodies, and sold to be eaten (Via

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20 October 2018

#BepiColombo: Europe Blasts Off To Mercury – Here's The Rocket Science


BepiColombo MPO at Mercury (Spacecraft ESA, Mercury NASA, Author provided)
The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched its BepiColombo mission to the planet Mercury from its spaceport near the equator in Kourou, French Guyana, on October 20. My involvement in the mission means that I will be anxiously following the journey as the spacecraft carries out a series of tricky manoeuvres, culminating in its final approach to Mercury in 2025.

The mission comes 25 years after a group of scientists first proposed to ESA that it should send a probe to Mercury, and 18 years after ESA approved the project as a “cornerstone” mission. This is the category of world class, scientifically excellent missions needing significant new technology development. Previous ESA cornerstone missions include the Rosetta comet mission and the LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave observatory.

But why Mercury? It is a puzzling planet. NASA’s MESSENGER orbiter (2011-2015) revealed many reasons why scientists are keen to learn more about it. These include the planet’s abnormally large core – we don’t know why it is still molten and able to generate a magnetic field, unlike that of Mars or Venus. Another mystery is the abundance of (largely unidentified) volatile substances at its surface. These ought not to have been incorporated in a planet that formed so close to the sun as Mercury now is.

The rocket science 
BepiColombo’s initial course after three days of orbiting the Earth for checkouts will be an elliptical orbit about the sun. This will begin by taking it inside the Earth’s orbit. But early in 2019, it will cross outside it for most of the year. It will then move back inside before coming very close to the Earth in April 2020.

BepiColombo launch and separation timeline
BepiColombo launch and separation timeline. (ESA)
At that time it will make a gravity-assist” flyby – using the Earth’s gravity to swing itself inwards towards Venus. There will also be a gravity-assist flyby of Venus when it gets there in 2020, followed by yet another in 2021 to send it towards Mercury. Then, there will be a series of six similar flybys of Mercury in 2021-2025, needed to ensure that the spacecraft eventually closes in on its target at a slow enough speed to be captured into orbit around it in December 2025.

Each flyby, shown in the animation above, has to be executed perfectly. Things could go wrong, especially during the launch, but I have ample confidence in the abilities of ESA’s flight control team at Darmstadt, Germany.

Stacked spacecraft 
The mission, which is named in memory of Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo who first proposed gravity-assist flybys for spacecraft, is a joint venture between ESA and its Japanese counterpart, JAXA.

The stacked spacecraft carries two orbiters. ESA’s is a two-metre long unit, massing more than a tonne, referred to as the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, MPO. I suspect that after it begins to orbit Mercury, it will inherit the name of BepiColombo or maybe just Bepi. The Japanese orbiter is smaller, and its mass is about a quarter of ESA’s orbiter. Originally called the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO, in June it was awarded the name Mio, which in Japanese carries connotations of safe navigation. During the cruise to Mercury, Mio will be housed inside a sunshield and attached to one side of the European orbiter.

Artist’s impression of BepiColombo during its April 2020 Earth flyby. Mio can be seen nestled inside its sunshield
Artist’s impression of BepiColombo during its April 2020 Earth flyby. Mio can be seen nestled inside its sunshield. (ESA/ATG medialab)
On the other side of the orbiter is the Mercury Transfer Module, MTM. This is operated by ESA, and provides the propulsion to take the stacked spacecraft all the way to its Mercury orbit. It has a 7.5-metre long “wing” of solar panels, whose job is to turn sunlight into electricity to power its “ion drive”. This is a propulsion device that creates thrust by accelerating xenon gas that has been positively charged (by stripping its atoms of electrons). This technique can provide much more thrust per mass of fuel than conventional chemical rockets.

The sun’s enormous gravity means that more energy is needed to get into a stable orbit about Mercury than would be needed to send the same spacecraft to vastly more distant Pluto. Because of this, the ion drive will be operated at intervals amounting to about half the cruise duration, mostly to slow the spacecraft down.

Unfortunately, the stacked configuration of the combined spacecraft impedes its ability to do science during the planetary flybys. Some scientific data will be collected, but the best pictures we are likely to get during flybys will be from the selfie-cams mounted on the MTM.

Arriving at Mercury 
On arrival at Mercury in late December 2025, the transfer module will be detached. Mio, spinning at 15 revolutions per minute for stability, will then be liberated into a strongly elliptical orbit about Mercury. As soon as this happens, JAXA will take over Mio operations and guide it through its tasks studying the planet’s magnetic field and the associated space environment.

ESA’s orbiter will then jettison the sunshield, its last impediment, and use its own chemical thrusters to achieve a closer, more circular, orbit about Mercury. From there it will study the planet’s surface by using an assortment of cameras and other instruments. This should pin down the composition and geological history in much better detail than the smaller and less complex MESSENGER. The orbiter will also carry a magnetometer so that both it and Mio will be able to report magnetic conditions at two places simultaneously – an important first for a deep space mission that should teach us about the speed at which disturbances travel through the planet’s magnetic field.

It’s exciting to think that BebiColombo may transform our knowledge of Mercury in just a few years. And while you wait, from October 23, you will be able to listen to some beautiful, evocative music that the planet has inspired as part of the Planets 2018 project. This was set up to commemorate the centenary of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite with music inspired by the science of the planets.

About Today's Contributor:
David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences, The Open University
  • David Rothery is co-leader of the European Space Agency's Mercury Surface and Composition Working Group, and a Co-Investigator on MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer). 
  • He has received funding from the UK Space Agency and the Science & Technology Facilities Council for work related to Mercury and the European Space Agency's Mercury orbiter BepiColombo, and is currently funded by the European Commission under its Horizon 2020 programme for work on planetary geological mapping (776276 Planmap). 
  • He is author of Planet Mercury - from Pale Pink Dot to Dynamic World (Springer, 2015), Moons: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Planets: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2010). 
  • He is Educator on the Open University's free learning Badged Open Course (BOC) on Moons and its equivalent Future Learn Moons MOOC, and chair of the Open University's level 2 course on Planetary Science and the Search for Life.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Bonus Video:

16 September 2018

Delacroix At The Met: A Retrospective That Evokes Today's Turmoil


Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Green Vest’ (1837)
Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Green Vest’ (1837). (Wikimedia Commons)
I’m an art historian and professor who studies and teaches French Romantic art. So when I was in France this past summer, I made sure to see the Louvre’s retrospective exhibition of French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix.

In the galleries, I listened in on the other viewers discussing his paintings. Yes, they talked about their beauty and vibrant colors. But they also spoke of the images they depicted – scenes of tyranny and political upheaval, of resistance, chaos and refugees. They may just as well have been speaking of our present moment.

Now the Delacroix exhibition is coming to the United States. It opens Sept. 17, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and will run through Jan. 6, 2019.

The exhibition will have a special resonance for those trying to make sense of the uncertainties and challenges we face today.

If you only know Delacroix from his iconic 1830 work “Liberty Leading the People” – in which a symbolic woman representing liberty celebrates the three glorious days of the Revolution of 1830 – you might think he was a political revolutionary. He was not.
Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (1830)
Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (1830). (Wikimedia Commons)
Instead, the artist was a conservative man facing what he called “the century of unbelievable things.” During his lifetime, he experienced war, two revolutions on his doorstep and encounters with Islamic cultures that challenged and entranced him. The exhibition shows us a man trying to comprehend what is happening to his world.

A star is born 
Born in 1798, Delacroix was a privileged child of the Napoleonic age. As a young student, he honed his skills by drawing in schoolbooks and sketchbooks.

But by the time Delacroix was 16 years old, both of his parents had died, and the family’s money dried up. Delacroix, realizing he would have to rely on his painting to make a living, enrolled in the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris while also studying in the studio of Pierre Guerin, where he befriended influential painter Theodore Gericault.

He was considered an early leader of the new Romantic style, an approach to painting that expressed passions through dramatic colors and loose, fluid brushstrokes.

While today he’s known as “the great Romantic,” Delacroix rejected that title. Instead, he styled himself as a painter who continued the glorious Classic tradition of French art; in his work, he often depicted Classical and historical subjects that were the bedrock of that approach.

He made his debut in the Paris Salon exhibition with the dramatic 1822 work “Barque of Dante,” an image of Dante and Virgil crossing into Hell that earned him widespread praise.
But Delacroix’s paintings of the Greek War of Independence – an early 1820s conflict between the Greeks and their Ottoman occupiers – catapulted him to fame.
In ‘Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi,’ Delacroix uses a pale female figure to symbolize Greece
In ‘Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi,’ Delacroix uses a pale female figure to symbolize Greece. (Wikimedia Commons)
Delacroix, like many in his circle, supported the Greeks in their struggle against the oppressive Ottoman Empire. While “The Massacre at Chios” (1824), dedicated to the brutal deaths of the Greeks on that island, will remain at the Louvre, the celebrated “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” (1826), an image of tragic defeat, travels to the New York exhibition. Delacroix began the painting shortly after the citizens of Missolonghi attempted to liberate their city only to be massacred by the Ottoman Turks in 1825.

In “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi,” Delacroix embodied Greece as a single allegorical figure. Pale-skinned and clothed in traditional garments of white and blue – with her body lowered on one knee upon the fallen marble blocks – she recalls the Virgin Mary. Shrouded in darkness behind her, there’s a Turk – dark-skinned, turbaned and dressed in menacing hues of red.

At this point in his life, Delacroix had never traveled to the Ottoman Empire or anywhere else in the Islamic world; he only knew of it from the stories, objects and images he encountered in Paris. People in his circle wrote about the Oriental world of the Turks and North Africa as “the other,” at best, and barbaric at worst. In the painter’s hands, the Islamic world is cast as the infidel, while Christian Greece is represented with the imagery of the Virgin. It is a classic clash of West and East, liberty and oppression.

In Europe and America today, these old conflicts are playing out again with similar language and imagery being deployed. This binary relationship runs so deep in Western culture that it seems like a permanent fixture of our politics.

An artist broadens his horizon 
In Delacroix’s art that simple binary never quite applied. Instead of seeing a border between the two worlds, it was as if he wanted to slip between them time and again. Though he was on the side of the Greeks two centuries ago, he was also fascinated by the glamour and violence he associated with the Islamic world.

In 1832, Delacroix, who seldom traveled, embarked for North Africa as part of a diplomatic mission to Algeria and Morocco. The voyage came about purely by chance when the ambassador, Count Charles de Mornay, sought a diverting traveling companion and artist to accompany him on the mission. Delacroix left within a month of receiving the invitation for the voyage.

The lure of the exotic Islamic world that Delacroix only knew through paintings and drawings was too much to resist. It changed the man and his art.

Little prepared him for North Africa and the beauty he found there. To Delacroix, all was soft and liquid in the light.

I am dizzy,” he wrote his friend Pierret. “I am like a man who is dreaming.”

The artist’s small sketchbooks from North Africa, which will be featured in the Met exhibition, offer an intimate glimpse of the scenes and people that captivated him. He would return to these subjects repeatedly throughout his career.

A star of the New York exhibition, “The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” (1834), brings viewers into Delacroix’s North African world. Years later, the journalist Phillipe Burty reported in his magazine article “Eugene Delacroix a Algers” that Delacroix had received permission to enter the private women’s quarter of an Algerian home with the help of an Algerian acquaintance. Even male family members needed permission to enter the “harem,” so Delacroix’s access would have been an extraordinary event.
Delacroix returned from his trip to North Africa inspired. He would go on to paint ‘The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment’ (1834)
Delacroix returned from his trip to North Africa inspired. He would go on to paint ‘The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment’ (1834). (Gandalf's Gallery)
The story may or may not be true, especially since Delacroix painted the piece in his Paris studio. Working from sketches, memory and Parisian models wearing the clothing he brought back from Algeria, Delacroix created what art historian Linda Nochlin once called an “imaginary Orient” – a world that may meld truth with fiction, but reveals much about its author.

Like many of us, Delacroix didn’t spend every moment obsessed with politics and conflict. He lived a rich life, and the exhibition shows the full scope of his work. His famous journal reveals a man about town, who immersed himself in literature and life. From the 1830s, the Met exhibition brings us paintings as varied as “Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother” (1830) and “Medea About to Kill Her Children” (1838).

During the Revolution of 1848, instead of creating a new “Liberty Leading the People,” the moderate Delacroix produced the vibrant “Basket of Flowers” (1848–49).
Eugene Delacroix’s ‘Basket of Flowers’ (1848-49)
Eugene Delacroix’s ‘Basket of Flowers’ (1848-49). (Wikimedia Commons)
In focusing on natural beauty, it would seem as though the political warfare roiling the streets of Paris was the last thing on Delacroix’s mind.

Delcroix’s most famous paintings, like “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” and “Liberty Leading the People,” arose out of the turmoil of the 19th century and evoke the uncertainties of our present day.

But “Basket of Flowers” may also say something important about finding beauty and equilibrium in the midst of chaos.The Conversation

About Today's Contributor:
Claire Black McCoy, Professor of Art History, Columbus State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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