First light for the storm hunter


ESA.- As the International Space Station flew over the Indonesian coast of Sumatra on an April night, lightning from a thunderstorm reached the upper layers of the atmosphere and its light show was captured by ESA’s latest observatory in space.As the International Space Station flew over the Indonesian coast of Sumatra on an April night, lightning from a thunderstorm reached the upper layers of the atmosphere and its light show was captured by ESA’s latest observatory in space.

The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, also known as the Space Storm Hunter, is completing its initial tests a month after it was installed outside Europe’s Columbus laboratory.

The first images and data captured the strong signature of lightning with unprecedented accuracy 400 kilometres above Earth.

“We collected 100 000 measurements per second of this amazing force of nature,” explains Torsten Neubert, science team coordinator at the Technical University of Denmark, “this is a fantastic example of how powerful our photometers are”.

 Storm hunter infographicsThe observatory points straight down at Earth so the atmosphere filters as little of the light as possible. The storm hunter’s photometers are hundreds of times more sensitive than an average camera on Earth. In the storm above Indonesia the instruments recorded a spike across three wavelengths.

“Even with the clouds partly blocking the lightning, the instruments show powerful electrical discharges high in the atmosphere. We think it shows an elve,” says Torsten.
Elves are the highest of all the ‘transient luminous events’ known to date. In the blink of an eye concentric rings appear as a dim, expanding glow hundreds of kilometres wide formed by electrons colliding and excited nitrogen molecules.

The images are surprisingly similar to a sequence captured by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen from the International Space Station in 2015.
“Thanks to Andreas’s discovery we know exactly how to interpret the images,” says Torsten. The data will allow scientists to investigate the phenomenon, and distinguish between layers of lightning and other high-energy discharges.

Setting up one of the most complex facilities ever flown on Columbus is a matter of trial and error. Each element is tested, including measures to avoid sunlight burning the sensors.

The first images are from the facilities visual cameras. A second suite of instruments detects high and low energy and has not finished calibration yet.
The first images are only a taster of its capabilities. “The most exciting science is yet to come – we will soon be able to correlate these optical data with terrestrial gamma-ray measurements,” ends Torsten.


GENEVA, (CNA).- Taiwan angrily refuted China's claim Wednesday at the World Health Assembly (WHA) that over the past five years, Taiwanese delegates have participated in almost all the technical meetings hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), saying that it was a brazen lie.

The Chinese delegates told a WHA gathering that China's government cares very much about the health and wellbeing of the 23 million people in Taiwan and has made proper arrangements for Taiwan to take part in global health projects under the principle of "one China."

Over the past five years, Taiwan has sent delegates to "almost all technical meetings" sponsored by the WHO, the Chinese representatives said.

According to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), however, Taiwan applied to take part in 154 WHO technical meetings in the period 2009-2017, but was accepted to only 46. In 2017, only five of Taiwan's 18 applications were approved, the ministry said.

MOFA said the 23 million people of Taiwan, who can be represented only by a popularly elected government, are infuriated by the Chinese delegates' groundless statements at the international meeting, which were a brazen lie.

At least 16 countries have openly endorsed Taiwan's right to be represented at the ongoing WHA, the decision making body of the WHO. For the second year in a row, Taiwan's request to participate as an observer, as it had done from 2009 to 2016 when the Kuomintang (KMT) was in power, was rejected.

China has used its influence to block Taiwan's participation in the WHA since President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party took office in May 2016.

(By Tang Pei-chun, Tai Ya-chen and S.C. Chang)

Tags: World Health Assembly

US Issues China Health Alert for 'Abnormal' Sound Sensations


BEIJING, (VOANEWS).- The U.S. State Department issued a health alert Wednesday for its citizens in China in response to what it said was a recent report of a U.S. government employee in Guangzhou experiencing "subtle and vague, but abnormal sensations of sound and pressure."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said the employee was sent back to the United States for evaluation and diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.

Wednesday's alert said the U.S. government does not know the cause of the reported symptoms and has not received similar reports in other parts of China, but that it is taking the report seriously.

It advised anyone who experiences "unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises" to not seek out the source, but instead to move to a location where they are not present.

The State Department "is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident," spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "The State Department will be sending a medical team to Guangzhou early next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of all Consulate Guangzhou employees who request it."

Last year in Cuba, the United States reported that some of its personnel and family members experience a range of symptoms, often after hearing an unusual sound, but the cause is still unknown.

"We are working to figure out what took place, both in Havana, now in China as well. We've asked the Chinese for their assistance in doing that, and they have committed to honoring their commitments under the Vienna convention to keep American Foreign Service officers safe," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.

Tags: The United Sates,

Trump Acknowledges Summit With North Korea's Kim in Doubt



WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump said his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not take place next month.

"If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later," Trump said. "It may not work out for June 12."

Trump added, however, "There's a good chance we'll have the meeting," terming the preliminary discussions between his administration and North Korean officials, so far, "a good experience."

Trump also said of Kim that "I think he's absolutely serious" about the planned talks.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in, explained, "There are certain conditions that we want. I think we will get those conditions."

Asked about the conditions, Trump replied, "I'd rather not say." But he stated that the denuclearization of North Korea "must take place."

"After talking about the summit with unbridled enthusiasm, President Trump is now playing it cool, hinting that he could just as easily walk away," said Jean Lee, director of Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center. "We know he wants it — and so does Kim Jong Un — but it's a complicated courtship between these leaders of two countries that remain in a technical state of war."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters at a State Department briefing Tuesday, said the U.S. is still working toward the June 12 summit date, but wouldn't predict whether the summit would take place. But he said he was "confident we'll get there" in the end.

Might call off meeting

North Korea has indicated it might call off the meeting due to disagreements on conditions by the United States for unilateral denuclearization.

“All in one [denuclearization] would be a lot better," Trump stated but acknowledged that for "physical reasons" that might not be immediately possible, Kim would have to agree to abandon his nuclear arsenal "over a very short period of time."

Trump, during a 35-minute exchange with reporters in the Oval Office, said if Kim agrees to that, "I will guarantee his safety," which would make Kim happy and "his country will be rich."

South Korea, China and Japan, according to Trump, are ready to invest "very, very large sums of money into helping to make North Korea great" if there's a deal made to get rid of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

"If it doesn't work out, he can't be happy," said Trump, who recently warned that North Korea would be "decimated" if it does not agree to give up its atomic arsenal.

"North Korea will chafe at this approach," Lee at the Wilson Center told VOA News. "Kim Jong Un doesn't want to be treated, publicly, like a pauper. He wants to come to the table as an equal, and from a position of perceived strength, not as a supplicant."

Moon, who flew to Washington from Seoul to try to persuade Trump not to call off next month's meeting in Singapore with the North's leader, said he has "every confidence [Trump] will be able to achieve a historic feat" by getting North Korea to denuclearize, ending the Korean War, establishing relations between Washington and Pyongyang and thus bringing "peace and prosperity" to the northern half of the peninsula.

"I will spare no effort to provide all necessary support," Moon said. "The fate and the future of Korea hinge on this."

The two-hour talks Tuesday between Trump and Moon marked their sixth meeting, although they have spoken on the telephone numerous other times.

Trump in charge

Moon, in the Oval Office discussion, credited Trump with bringing about the recent positive change of tone from North Korea, saying, "The person who is in charge is President Trump. President Trump has been able to achieve this dramatic change."

Trump, in response to a question from a South Korean reporter, said, "I have tremendous confidence in President Moon, and I think South Korea is very lucky to have him."

After a historic inter-Korean meeting between Moon and Kim last month, a followup round of high-level North-South talks was abruptly canceled by Pyongyang, which expressed anger about continuing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

Trump said the two Koreas have been separated for decades by "an artificial border" and predicted "maybe someday in the future they'll get together and you'll go back to one Korea."

Also under discussion between Seoul and Washington is the size and cost of U.S. forces in South Korea to defend it against the North.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering reducing the number of American military personnel from the current level of 28,500. A South Korean official said Seoul and Washington "remain far apart on the cost-sharing issue."

Asked by VOA News at Tuesday's White House briefing about the outcome of the discussion concerning the U.S. troops, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied she had no immediate information.

"At least in the meeting that I was in that did not come up," Sanders added.

Steve Herman

Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.

Tags: The United Sates, North Korea

China, Myanmar Hold High-Level Talks on Border Violence


YANGON, MYANMAR, (MOE ZAW-NAI KUN ENN-VOANEWS).- China’s special envoy on Asian affairs met with Myanmar’s military chief on Tuesday in the aftermath of clashes along the border between Myanmar and China that left at least three Chinese citizens dead.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held talks with Sun Guoxiang in Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Taw. The two discussed border security and the delay of an upcoming round of talks that are part of a longstanding effort to end fighting between ethnic armies and Myanmar’s military.

The Myanmar Defense Ministry reported that the Chinese envoy denounced the violence in Myanmar’s Shan state.

Thirty-two people died after the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) launched an operation early on May 12 on the outskirts of Muse, a busy border area between Myanmar's Shan state and China's Yunnan Province. TNLA, which belongs to the Northern Alliance -- a coalition of four armed ethnic groups -- said in a statement that it was retaliating for a push by Myanmar's military against another ethnic insurgent group, the KIA.

Two days later more fighting erupted in the same area, and both China and the United States called for restraint in the often restive region.

At least three Chinese nationals died in the outbursts of violence.

Beijing has urged ethnic rebel groups, which remain hostile to the military, to join the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, which had been planned for this month but is now delayed. The conference is also known as the Union Peace Conference and is an effort to end decades of fighting.

Nyi Rang, spokesman for the Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) told VOA Burmese that his organization, Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed group, will join the peace forum as a member of an umbrella organization called the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC).

“As I understand, it has to be an official invitation and has to invite all FPNCC members,” he said. “I understand that they all would like to participate as official representatives and I don’t think they will join the event as observer or (with) guest status.”

There had been speculation in Myanmar that Sun, the Chinese envoy, was tasked with facilitating talks between the Myanmar military and the Northern Alliance groups, military analyst Maung Maung Soe told VOA. He added that task would be challenging for Beijing because the Myanmar military says four of the seven are “terror” groups.

“It’s also said that China is trying to arrange an initial meeting in Yangon later this month,” he said. “I think if China can find a way that can be accepted by … ethnic groups, the government and the military, there may be a path to peace or ceasefire.

However, he added, “I think it will be very hard to accomplish.”

Meanwhile, China repatriated about 150 Myanmar citizens, after being displaced by the latest conflicts between the government troops and ethnic rebels.

Muse District Immigration official Mie Rha told VOA that “more than 140 people have been sent back since they escaped from the conflict. Chinese immigration officials handed them over (to Myanmar authorities) and 10 to 15 people are being deported on (a) daily basis.”

Another group of about 300 people is expected to return soon, he said.

This report originated on VOA Burmese.

Photo: A. N. Soe for VOA

Tags: Myanmar