Never-before-seen Chinese military blimp caught on satellite images of remote desert base
A large blimp developed by the Chinese military has been spotted for the first time at a remote base in the desert of northwestern China, exclusive new satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows.
Aerospace experts say the images, taken three months before a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, could signal a notable advancement in China’s airship program, demonstrating a more versatile and maneuverable craft than previously seen or known.
The images, taken in November 2022 by US satellite imaging company BlackSky, show a roughly 100-foot long blimp in the middle of a nearly kilometer-long runway at a desert military complex in northwestern China. presented the imagery to a number of aerospace experts, who confirmed they show a blimp and runway, bookended by a pivot point used to launch airships, as well as a massive, nearly 900-foot airship hangar.
Oklahoma Aerospace Institute executive director Jamey Jacobs said a blimp like this could be used as a “submarine of the skies,” and that it appears to have dedicated propulsion and navigation capabilities, which would allow it to loiter over an area for an extended period.
“It really is the next leap for them in terms of furthering the engineering and support of research funding in that direction,” Jacobs said.
reached out to several congressional and administration offices familiar with US intelligence on China who would not speak directly about the base or the blimp.
A senior Defense Department official declined to comment on what threats the blimp represents in China’s arsenal but said since it’s visible, the Pentagon would be aware.
“You can expect because it’s available via satellite imagery that we’re tracking the object,” the official said.
The CIA declined a request for comment. The National Security Council did not respond to a request.
China’s ‘near space’ program
The spy balloon incident from January brought significant attention to China’s airship program, revealing how useful airships can be to its spying activities. According to a 2018 report by the Rand Corporation on the country’s modern warfare strategy, these types of airships are attractive to the Chinese because they’re “less expensive … and provide more-precise intelligence” than satellites, in addition to being “less susceptible to destruction” than planes.
Although China is not alone in utilizing airships – the US military has used aerostats – this discovery now confirms the PLA program uses all three types of airships: blimps, aerostats and free-floating balloons.
Eli Hayes, a researcher who has studied the Chinese airship program for years, also noted that the blimp’s appearance at a Chinese military facility marks a notable transition in Chinese blimp technology and research – it’s not just civilian anymore.
“It’s not just people talking about possible applications or use cases,” Hayes told CNN, explaining that past Chinese airships and accomplishments have been constructed by research institutions and universities. While it’s unclear whether those institutions assisted in the creation of this blimp, Hayes does note that some are known to have deep ties to the People’s Liberation Army, and at least one has been on a US sanctions list for decades.
asked the Chinese Defense Ministry about the blimp, and its purpose, but did not immediately receive a response. China is in the midst of a five-day May Day holiday.
Additional satellite imagery and analysis of the site suggests that the PLA has significantly loftier goals for its site, and its airship program.
“If I had to guess, [this blimp is] probably some sort of testing,” said William Kim, a surveillance balloon specialist at The Marathon Initiative, a non-profit military and diplomatic research organization.
Where the airship program fits into the Chinese military’s overall organizational structure remains a mystery, although patents are giving a glimpse that they’ve recently created a unit to oversee the technology.
A number of patents involving airship technologies were recently reassigned to a new PLA group – Unit 63660 – according to Hayes. A review of Chinese patents confirms that the new unit holds a number of other patents relating to airship technology and storage, and that they were recently reassigned from a previous PLA unit.
Your pollen allergies are overwhelming? This might be why
Pollen has exploded to eye-watering levels this spring in some parts of the country after warm weather pushed plants out of their winter slumber much earlier than normal.
In Atlanta, the pollen count sky rocketed to “extremely high” in early March and stayed high through much of April, according to the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma physicians practice. Farther north in Washington, DC, allergy sufferers have been dreading the lime-green film of pollen covering that covers windshields and porches and piles up on streets and sidewalks.
But these aren’t isolated trends. As the planet warms, researchers say allergy season is starting earlier and lasting longer. And a study from the journal Nature published last year found that pollen count is projected to increase by 200% by the end of the century if planet-warming pollution continues to rise.
Climate Central, a nonprofit focused on climate news and research, recently analyzed how warmer temperatures have affected allergy season in 203 US cities since 1970.
It found that on average, the growing season – the period between the last freeze in spring to the first freeze of fall – is lasting 16 days longer in the Southeast, 15 days longer in the Northeast and 14 days longer in the South.
In the West, growing season is 27 days longer on average, Climate Central reported. Reno, Nevada, for example, has seen a shocking increase of 99 days.
And a longer growing season means a longer allergy season.
Because of climate change, we’re now seeing an earlier and longer growing season for plants, which of course make pollen, which is the enemy of many Americans that suffer from pollen allergies – and mold allergies as well,” Lauren Casey, a meteorologist with Climate Central, told CNN. “Pollen can also trigger an asthma attack, which of course is much more serious for people that suffer from asthma.”
When plants reproduce, typically during the spring, many release tiny pollen grains that are carried by wind. The pollen grains are small enough to be inhaled, and some people’s immune systems react very poorly to the miniscule particles.
More than 24 million people in the US have pollen-induced respiratory allergies like hay fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center’s data shows that more than one in four adults suffered from seasonal allergies in 2021.
A longer and earlier start to pollen season could trigger a public health emergency, researchers say. As temperatures get warmer in the South and drought plagues the Southwest, pollen from plants like ragweed or poaceae – a plant that typically grows in grasslands or salt-marshes – is projected to be higher across those regions than in the North.
Wind-driven pollen, which plays an important role in plant fertilization, is closely tied to temperature and precipitation changes. So, as spring seasons get warmer earlier due to climate change, plants could pollinate much earlier and for a longer period of time than they currently do.
Mold allergens on the rise
Plant pollen isn’t the only trigger of seasonal allergies. Mold, a type of fungi that reproduces with tiny airborne spores, can also be allergenic for some people and can exacerbate seasonal allergies, according to the report.
While outdoor mold is not as well-studied as pollen, according to the report, one thing is clear: Warmer and wetter weather – conditions that many locations are seeing more of amid the climate crisis – is favorable for mold development.
The Facebook Papers may be the biggest crisis in the company’s history
Facebook has confronted whistleblowers, PR firestorms and Congressional inquiries in recent years. But now it faces a combination of all three at once in what could be the most intense and wide-ranging crisis in the company’s 17-year history.
On Friday, a consortium of 17 US news organizations began publishing a series of stories — collectively called “The Facebook Papers” — based on a trove of hundreds of internal company documents which were included in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The consortium, which includes CNN, reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress.
CNN’s coverage includes stories about how coordinated groups on Facebook (FB) sow discord and violence, including on January 6, as well as Facebook (FB)’s challenges moderating content in some non-English-speaking countries, and how human traffickers have used its platforms to exploit people.
The reports from CNN, and the other outlets that are part of the consortium, follow a month of intense scrutiny for the company. The Wall Street Journal previously published a series of stories based on tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents leaked by Haugen. (The consortium’s work is based on many of the same documents.)
The publication of the Journal’s “Facebook Files,” which raised concerns about the impact of Instagram on teen girls, among other issues, prompted a Senate subcomittee hearing with Facebook head of global safety Antigone Davis. Haugen herself then testified before the Senate subcommittee, during which she said she believes that “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.”
There’s currently no end in sight for Facebook’s troubles. Members of the subcommittee have called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. And on Friday, another former Facebook employee anonymously filed a complaint against the company to the SEC, with allegations similar to Haugen’s.
Facebook has dealt with scandals over its approach to data privacy, content moderation and competitors before. But the vast trove of documents, and the many stories surely still to come from it, touch on concerns and problems across seemingly every part of its business: its approach to combatting hate speech and misinformation, managing international growth, protecting younger users on its platform and even its ability to accurately measure the size of its massive audience.
All of this raises an uncomfortable question for the company: Is Facebook actually capable of managing the potential for real-world harms from its staggeringly large platforms, or has the social media giant become too big not to fail?
Facebook tries to turn the page
Facebook, for its part, has repeatedly tried to discredit Haugen, and said her testimony and reports on the documents mischaracterize its actions and efforts.
“At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. “Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie.”
In a tweet thread last week, the company’s Vice President of Communications, John Pinette, called the Facebook Papers a “curated selection out of millions of documents at Facebook” which “can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us.” But even that response is telling –— if Facebook has more documents that would tell a fuller story, why not release them? (During her Senate testimony Facebook’s Davis said Facebook is “looking for ways to release more research.”)
Instead, Facebook is now reportedly planning to rebrand itself under a new name as early as this week, as the wave of critical coverage continues. (Facebook previously declined to comment on this report.) The move appears to be a clear attempt to turn the page, but a fresh coat of paint won’t fix the underlying issues outlined in the documents — only Facebook, or whatever it may soon be called, can do that.
Take the example of a report published by the Journal on September 16 that highlighted internal Facebook research about a violent Mexican drug cartel, known as Cartél Jalisco Nueva Generación. The cartel was said to be using the platform to post violent content and recruit new members using the acronym “CJNG,” even though it had been designated internally as one of the “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” whose content should be removed. Facebook told the Journal at the time that it was investing in artificial intelligence to bolster its enforcement against such groups.
Despite the Journal’s report last month, last week identified disturbing content linked to the group on Instagram, including photos of guns, and photo and video posts in which people appear to have been shot or beheaded. After asked Facebook about the posts, a spokesperson confirmed that multiple videos flagged were removed for violating the company’s policies, and at least one post had a warning added.
setting Boston Bruins blow 3-1 series lead, eliminated by Florida Panthers from NHL playoffs
The President’s Trophy curse will continue for at least another year as the Boston Bruins fell to the Florida Panthers 4-3 Sunday in an electric Game 7 of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The Panthers got out to a quick start, going up 2-0. The high-powered Bruins came storming back, scoring three unanswered goals to take the lead.
With a minute left in the third period and the fans at TD Garden in Boston going wild, the Panthers’ Brandon Montour scored to tie the game and send it to overtime, silencing the home crowd.
fter a couple of scoring chances in the overtime period for both teams, Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe scored to eliminate the Bruins from the playoffs.
Florida completed an improbable comeback, from being down 3-1 in the series to winning three straight games to advance to the next round.
The Bruins, who broke the NHL record for most wins (65) and most points (135) in a single season, join a list of teams who took home the President’s Trophy and did not win the Stanley Cup. The President’s Trophy is awarded to the team that finishes the regular season with the most points.
The last team to win the award and the Cup in the same year was the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012-2013 season. The Bruins, who have won the Trophy two other times in the last 10 years, were eliminated both times in the second round of the playoffs (2013-2014, 2019-2020).
The Panthers will face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round.
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