Honolulu, July 20 (AP/UNB) — Is there life on planets outside our solar system? How did stars and galaxies form in the earliest years of the universe? How do black holes shape galaxies?
Scientists are expected to explore those and other fundamental questions about the universe when they peer deep into the night sky using a new telescope planned for the summit of Hawaii's tallest mountain.
But the Thirty Meter Telescope is a decade away from being built. And Native Hawaiian protesters have tried to thwart the start of construction by blocking a road to the mountain. They say installing yet another observatory on Mauna Kea's peak would further defile a place they consider sacred.
Activists have fought the $1.4 billion telescope but the state Supreme Court has ruled it can be built. The latest protests could be the final stand against it.
Here's a look at the telescope project and some of the science it's expected to produce.
Why would the telescope be more powerful?
The large size of the telescope's mirror means it would collect more light, allowing it to see faint, far-away objects such as stars and galaxies dating back as long as 13 billion years.
The telescope gets its name from the size of the mirror, which will be 30 meters (98 feet) in diameter. That's three times as wide as the world's largest existing visible-light telescope.
Adaptive optics would correct the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere.
The telescope would be more than 200 times more sensitive than current telescopes and able to resolve objects 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, said Christophe Dumas, head of operations for the Thirty Meter Telescope.
What research would the telescope do?
— Distant planets. During the past 20 years, astronomers have discovered it is common for planets to orbit other stars in the universe. But they don't know much about what those planets — called extrasolar planets or exoplanets — are like. The new telescope would allow scientists to determine whether their atmospheres contain water vapor or methane which might indicate the presence of life.
"For the first time in history we will be capable of detecting extraterrestrial life," Dumas said.
Dumas said the new telescope would use special optics to suppress the light of stars. He compared the technique to blocking a bright street light in the distance with your thumb then seeing insects circling in the fainter light below.
— Black holes. Black holes at the center of most galaxies are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull.
Andrea Ghez, a University of California, Los Angeles physics and astronomy professor who discovered our galaxy's black hole, said scientists believe black holes play a fundamental role in how galaxies are formed and evolve.
But so far astronomers have only been able to observe this dynamic in detail in the Milky Way because the next galaxy is 100 times farther away.
The Thirty Meter Telescope would enable scientists to study more galaxies and more black holes in greater detail.
It may also help them understand gravity. Those who doubt the importance should note that GPS-enabled maps on cellphones rely on Einstein's theories about gravity.
"We think of these things as esoteric. But in fact, in the long run, they have profound impacts on our lives," Ghez said.
—Dark matter and dark energy. Humans see only about 4 percent of all matter in the universe, Dumas said. Dark energy makes up about three-quarters and dark matter the rest. Neither can be seen.
"We have no idea what dark matter is and no idea what dark energy is. That's a big dilemma in today's world," Dumas said.
Because mass deforms space and light, Dumas said the new telescope would make it possible to measure how dark matter influences light.
It could do this by studying light from far-away galaxies. The light would take different paths to the telescope, generating different images of the same object.
Why mauna kea?
The weather at the summit of Mauna Kea tends to be ideal for viewing the skies. At nearly 14,000 feet, its peak is normally above the clouds. Being surrounded by the ocean means air flows tend to be smoother and it has the driest atmosphere of any of the candidate sites.
The mountain is already home to 13 other telescopes.
Ghez used the Keck Observatory there to find our galaxy's black hole. Other discoveries credited to those sites over the years include the first images of exoplanets and helping identify 'Oumuamua, the first object from interstellar space, which turned out to be a comet from a distant star system.
Next generation telescopes
Two other giant telescopes are being built in Chile, which also has excellent conditions for astronomy.
The European Extremely Large Telescope will have a primary mirror measuring 39 meters, or 128 feet, in diameter. The Giant Magellan Telescope's mirror will be 24.5 meters, or 80 feet, in diameter.
The Thirty Meter Telescope is the only one expected to be built in the Northern Hemisphere. Because different spots on Earth look out on different parts of the sky, the next-generation ground telescopes will ensure scientists are able to see the entire universe.
The universities and national observatories behind the Thirty Meter Telescope have selected Spain's Canary Islands as a backup site in case they are unable to build in Hawaii.
Alexandria, July 20 (AP/UNB) — At 79 years old, Art McManus says he's still able to hop on the tractor and maintain the 160 acres of cherry trees at his orchard in Traverse City, Michigan.
His children have gone on to start lives of their own, though he gets some help running his farmers market from his daughter-in-law. But he hires seasonal help to keep the cherry operation moving. "I've been at it all my life," he says. "I enjoy it."
For McManus and many farmers across the country, assistive technology, help from seasonal hires and family members, and a general improvement in the health of U.S. seniors in recent decades have helped them remain productive well into their 60s, 70s and beyond.
Farmers staying on the job longer can restrict land options of younger farmers, making it harder for beginners to crack into the industry, experts say. They worry that without the older farmers, there might not be enough younger people interested in agriculture to support America's food production needs.
"It's a problem," says Milt McGiffen, an agronomist, plant physiologist and researcher at the University of California, Riverside. "There isn't a magic bullet to fix it. And the other problem is you have less people going into ag and you need more food coming out the other end" with a growing U.S. population.
In the U.S. last year, the median age for domestic farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers was 56.4 years old. That's the highest median age of any major occupation tracked by the government's Current Population Survey for which data was available. The age has ticked up by half a year since 2012, despite the median age of the entire labor force falling slightly over the same period.
Nearly 29 percent of farmers were at least 65 years of age last year, and less than 13 percent were under the age of 35. Experts say steep equipment costs, limited land availability and competition from older farmers are among the reasons younger workers struggle to establish themselves.
"With the cost of land and equipment, I don't know how you can make it work (as a young farmer). It'll cost $1 million to get into it," McManus says.
Agriculture's age imbalance and the barriers to entry for young farmers have not gone unnoticed by U.S. lawmakers. A House subcommittee is planning a hearing Thursday to start addressing the challenges faced by new farmers.
With time and money invested in land and equipment, some older farmers are reluctant to cede their operations to younger workers. Technological advancements have made it easier for them to work longer, according to agriculture workers and experts.
"When it comes to machine work, climbing in and out of the (tractor) is about as much energy as it requires to do things. And in terms of steering, auto guidance has just been a freaking game changer," says John Phipps, 71, a commentator for "Farm Journal" and "Top Producer" magazines who maintains more than 2,000 acres of farmland with his son in eastern Illinois.
McManus says cell phones have also been "a big help to keep track of the help and what's going on," though a recent car accident and subsequent back surgery have forced him to more actively consider stepping away from the operation.
Many farmers who need help because of aging or disability, turn to Agrability, a partially government-funded program that helps them more easily maintain their farms. Bill Field, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University and the project director at Agrability's national hub in Indiana, says more than 1,500 consultants were sent to individual farms last year to assess the need and determine what resources might be available.
For farmers with considerable mobility issues, Agrability may recommend equipment manufacturers of assistive technology. For others who are battling arthritis or the wear and tear of age, there are a range of options that include different watering or harvesting methods, rigging additional lighting to tractors for improved visibility. The program also may recommend using more automated equipment or installing handrails to help workers better navigate the farm.
"Our biggest-single call we get tends to be related to mobility because of arthritis and aging," he says. "It's sometimes little things. When you're working in the afternoon, (we tell older farmers to) keep your windshield clean. We lose about a third of our light-capturing ability by the time we're 70."
Field, 70, owns more than two dozen head of cattle and nearly a dozen tractors and says he has no plans to walk away from farm life. He says he isn't surprised by the growing number of older workers reaching out to the program, and he's encouraged older farmers are opting to stick around.
Mark Hosier, a 58-year-old farmer and Alexandria, Indiana, native who farms corn, beans and cash crops while breeding and selling show pigs, called on Agrability after a 2,000-pound bale of hay fell from the forks of Hosier's tractor in 2006, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down. He's been able to keep his operation running thanks to assistive lifts on his tractor, on the back of his truck and on his combine that he says have been instrumental in keeping him on the farm.
"It does make you feel like a productive citizen. You go out here, and you're earning money."
He likes the fact that he can do it himself and that he doesn't have to rely on others to do his work.
"Farmers don't retire," he says.
San Francisco, July 20 (AP/UNB) — Facebook says it's deciding how to respond to a California Supreme Court ruling that says defense lawyers in a gang-related murder trial can obtain private social media postings.
The Los Angeles Times says the court on Wednesday lifted a stay that had halted a ruling by the judge overseeing the San Francisco trial requiring Facebook and other social media companies to hand over some postings.
That ruling remains under appeal.
However, If the ruling is upheld and Facebook refuses to hand over postings, it might be held in contempt of court.
In a statement, Facebook says it believes federal law prohibits any lower-court order requiring it to turn over private Facebook and Instagram content. The company says it will "continue to protect" user privacy.
The California Supreme Court has ruled that the defense in a gang-related murder trial can obtain private postings from social media companies.
The Los Angeles Times reports the court's decision Wednesday upheld a ruling by the judge overseeing the San Francisco trial and noted that the judge's findings strongly justify access in this case.
The Times says it's the first time such an order has been enforced in a California court.
Last year, the California Supreme Court had ruled that the defense in the gang case could have social media postings that were public at the time of the killings, but that ruling did not deal with private postings.
Under the latest ruling, the judge will decide which postings obtained from social media companies will be given to the defense.
Honolulu, July 19 (AP/UNB) — Hundreds of protesters trying to stop the construction of a giant telescope on land some consider sacred continue to gather at the base of Hawaii's tallest mountain.
Protest leader Kaho'okahi Kanuha says Friday is shaping up to be another calm day. He says protesters have been bracing for law enforcement to show up in force ever since Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday giving authorities more control over access to the Big Island mountain.
That was the day officers arrested 34 protesters.
It's the fifth day of protests at Mauna Kea in response to closing the road to the summit so that construction equipment can be taken up. No trucks have gone up.
There have been protests in other parts of Hawaii, including at the Capitol in Honolulu.
Baltimore, July 19 (AP/UNB) — A former National Security Agency contractor who stored two decades' worth of classified documents at his Maryland home was sentenced Friday to nine years in prison.
Harold Martin, 54, apologized before he was sentenced in Baltimore's federal court to a theft prosecutors called "breathtaking" in scope.
"My methods were wrong, illegal and highly questionable," Martin told Judge Richard Bennett.
The punishment was in line with the nine-year sentence called for under his plea agreement, in which he admitted guilt to a single count of willful retention of national defense information.
"This case is enormously significant not only for the Justice Department but also for the intelligence community," Robert Hur, the United States Attorney in Maryland, told The Associated Press in an interview before the sentencing. "In any case where you have someone who holds a security clearance at the level that Mr. Martin did and chooses to betray that public trust in such a profound way, it puts national security at risk."
The sentencing resolves a mysterious case that broke into the open in 2016, when FBI agents conducting a raid found a massive trove of stolen government documents inside his home, car and storage shed.
The information — prosecutors initially said 50 terabytes had been found, though Hur said that estimate had been revised significantly downward — spanned from the mid-1990s to the present and included personal details of government employees and "Top Secret" email chains, handwritten notes describing the NSA's classified computer infrastructure, and descriptions of classified technical operations.
The case attracted particular attention since the raid took place just weeks after a mysterious Internet group calling itself the Shadow Brokers surfaced online to advertise the sale of hacking tools stolen from the NSA. The U.S. believes that North Korea and Russia were able to capitalize on stolen hacking tools to unleash punishing global cyberattacks.
Prosecutors never linked Martin to the Shadow Brokers or charged him in the theft, and Hur said there was no evidence he had ever transmitted classified information to anyone. But prosecutors say he nonetheless jeopardized national security through habitually taking home secret and classified government documents and carelessly storing them.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, described him as a compulsive hoarder who never betrayed his country. One of his lawyers, James Wyda, said Martin's tendencies did not reflect "spycraft" and resisted any efforts to compare him to fellow former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is accused of disclosing classified information.
But Hur said that characterization minimized the crime.
"This isn't just hoarding," Hur told the AP. "It isn't like wandering into someone's house and finding stacks of newspapers or library books or junk. This is highly classified information, the compromise of which is going to do grave damage to national security."