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Is it realistic to believe that Congress could act to bring all guns, or at least handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15, within a system of real background checks? The politics around guns will need to fundamentally change for that to happen, but the signs from student activists in the wake of last week’s high school massacre are at least pointing to a renewed sense that this is a fight worth having. For the foreseeable future, however, it makes sense to pursue incremental improvements: Congress should extend NICS to all gun sales; expand certain of the “prohibited person” categories; and get serious about getting disqualifying records into the system. Trump is reportedly in favor of considering improvements to the background check system. If he’s serious, he will start with the aforementioned low hanging fruit. It may not seem like a lot, but each small change will save lives. At this point, that should be every American’s priority.

You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.

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A corona around the sun. Notice how the inside of the ring is blue and the outside is red. —

In the Arctic, people can sometimes see and hear things that they cannot see or hear most other places on Earth. These phenomena are caused by special atmospheric conditions. Microscopic ice crystals are suspended in the air, changing how light and sound travel over distances. Layers of hot and cold air refract, or bend, light rays. Light bounces off the surfaces of clouds, water, and ice to create optical illusions.

People also sometimes report that they can hear noises from much further away in the Arctic. As with optical phenomena, this phenomenon occurs because cold atmospheric conditions bend sound waves differently than the air at lower latitudes. The air near the surface tends to be colder and more dense than air higher up, causing sound waves to tend to bend down toward the surface rather than up away from the earth as they do in more temperate latitudes where air temperature on average decreases with height. The range at which sound can be heard depends on the temperature of the air, the speed and direction of the wind, and the rate at which sound energy is absorbed by the earth's surface. For instance, soft snow absorbs sound energy very efficiently, effectively muting the transmission of sound. In contrast, a hard-crusted snow surface absorbs little energy and a smooth ice surface is an almost ideal reflector of sound. Given the right conditions, conversations can sometimes be heard up to three kilometers (1.88 miles) away.

“This is a crazy thing to happen two days from delivering a satellite,” says Manchester. “We had already been vetted by the NASA office that actually does this for a living. It wasn’t a problem before and it’s not really a technical problem. It’s more of an unfortunate bureaucratic situation... regulation gone awry.”

While Manchester attempted to reason with the FCC, his NASA contacts tried to pull strings within the federal government, but to no avail. As months ticked into years, Manchester realized that an FCC license might never be forthcoming.

Eventually, NASA adopted KickSat-2 as an official NASA mission. Due to a regulatory quirk, NASA’s own satellites are overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) rather than the FCC. KickSat-2 is now slated for launch late this year or early next. “But it’s taken us three years and lots of lawyers to figure out,” says Manchester.

Clear Skies?

IEEE Spectrum could find no record of any satellite smaller than 10 cm on any side having been licensed for launch by the FCC since the KickSat-2 fiasco. We gave the FCC multiple opportunities to explain its inconsistent approach to licensing small satellites, but it has yet to reply.

Tom Walkinshaw, founder and CEO of Alba Orbital , a start-up based in Scotland that develops and sells PocketQube satellites, calls the FCC’s erratic picosat licensing decisions “a head-scratcher.” He says, “Is one part of the organization acting one way, and another part another? I don’t think anyone’s too sure right now. Everyone’s looking for clarification.”

The FCC attempted to shed some light on its thinking last month, with a proposed rule-making for streamlining the licensing procedures for small satellites. The main aim of the new rules, welcomed by every expert IEEE Spectrum spoke to, is to reduce the paperwork and time needed to license the launches of small, experimental satellites and CubeSats. But the rules explicitly exclude picosats, requiring satellites to be no less than 10 cm on any side “to ensure that the satellite will be trackable as a space object.”

Walkinshaw points out that not only are all of today’s PocketQube satellites (and amazing price for sale Topo Athletic FliLyte Running Shoe Womens Charcoal/Black discount genuine 6PJCI
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A bigger problem, thinks Manchester, is that “the FCC has been unwilling to consider licensing anything smaller than a CubeSat through the normal application process, and this new process does not seem to address that broader issue in any way.”

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initiative approached Manchester in 2015 offering to develop his Sprites into miniscule interstellar spacecraft for a journey to Alpha Centauri, it wanted to test them in Earth orbit first. “We didn’t even try to go through the FCC,” says Manchester. “We got an export licence from the State Department, which took a couple of weeks, and then I just took the satellites to Germany in my carry-on.”

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