Newsletter Digest: Space capsule landing, oil drilling, and Fieldays

Aussie-bound space capsule due

Scientists in the desolate South Australian outback are preparing for the touch down of a Japanese space capsule, which is scheduled to arrive on Sunday night.

The Hayabusa capsule is the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid, which it did in 2005, intercepting the Itokawa asteriod. But scientists won’t know how much material the capsule gathered until they recover it on the ground in Australia.

Scientists from Japan, Australia and the US have gathered for the landing, which will also be recorded from the air by a team from NASA. Earlier this week, some of the scientists featured in a media briefing hosted by the Australian Science Media Centre. You can listen back to the briefing here.

Oil: The opportunities and the risks

Experts in oil and gas exploration this week took part in a Science Media Centre briefing looking at the science behind the search for oil in New Zealand waters.

The audio from the briefing can be played back here.

The briefing followed last week’s news that Brazilian oil giant Petrobras had obtained a five year exploration permit to explore the Raukamara Basin. Dr Richard Cook, chief petroleum geologist for Crown Minerals, told the briefing that the exploration taking place over the next 18 months would not be for wells in really deep water.

Meanwhile, scientists looking at the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are struggling to put an accurate figure on how much oil may continue to be leaking from the ruptured well. Estimates from scientists have ranged from 5,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil per day.

As the Washington Post reports: “One team that has studied video taken of the leaking riser pipe before it was cut and capped last week has concluded that the well was most likely producing 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. If that estimate is on target, and if the flow has been more or less consistent since the April 20 blowout, the hydrocarbon reservoir 2 1/2 miles below the sea floor has gushed five to six times the amount spilled in Alaskan waters in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez.”

A field day for agriculture reporters

Next week agriculture reporters will descend on Mystery Creek for the big event on the primary sector’s calendar: Fieldays (16 – 19 June).

A number of organisations that undertake agricultural research will have a presence at Fieldays, including Crown Research Institute Agresearch, whose outgoing chief executive Dr Andrew West will launch the Agresearch Science Report, described as an “in-depth look at high value nature of some of [Agresearch’s] long term programmes”.

The day prior to Fieldays opening will also see the release in Wellington of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Situation and Outlook for Agriculture and Forestry 2010. The report, according to MAF, looks at “issues affecting the primary sectors and forecasting performance and returns in forestry, agriculture and horticulture out to 2014.”

MAF will hold a media briefing on the report 8.30 – 9.30am on Tuesday June 15. The report will be available for download here from that morning.

The SMC would also like to welcome veteran reporter-turned public relations guru Peter Burke back to journalism. Peter, who was formerly a communications advisor at Horizons Regional Council, has joined Rural News as an agricultural reporter. He will continue to be heavily involved in the Science Communications Association of New Zealand (SCANZ).