Geoff Brumfiel

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.

From April of 2016 to September of 2018, Brumfiel served as an editor overseeing basic research and climate science. Prior to that, he worked for three years as a reporter covering physics and space for the network. Brumfiel has carried his microphone into ghost villages created by the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. He's tracked the journey of highly enriched uranium as it was shipped out of Poland. For a story on how animals drink, he crouched for over an hour and tried to convince his neighbor's cat to lap a bowl of milk.

Before NPR, Brumfiel was based in London as a senior reporter for Nature Magazine from 2007-2013. There, he covered energy, space, climate, and the physical sciences. From 2002 – 2007, Brumfiel was Nature Magazine's Washington Correspondent.

Brumfiel is the 2013 winner of the Association of British Science Writers award for news reporting on the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The U.S. has begun deploying a new type of low-yield nuclear warhead aboard some ballistic missile submarines, according to a report by an independent monitor.

When the USS Tennessee, an Ohio-class submarine, went on patrol in the final weeks of 2019, it carried "one or two" of the new weapons, according to a post by the Federation of American Scientists.

A rocket from the commercial company SpaceX lifted off on Wednesday morning with some 60 satellites aboard. Once they reached low Earth orbit, the satellites were released and began to fan out like a deck of cards.

They follow predictable paths around the Earth, but along the way those paths can cross with other things in orbit — satellites from other companies, old rocket stages, loose bits of metal — and cause a catastrophic collision.

New imagery from commercial satellites that was shared with NPR suggests Iran is making repairs and preparing for a space launch, following a recent string of failed attempts.

The imagery, taken Sunday by the commercial firm Planet and shared via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, shows vehicles parked at a building used to assemble Iran's space rockets at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran. A second group of vehicles is visible at a circular launch pad that was heavily damaged during failed launch preparations last year.

On the same night that Iran launched a ballistic missile strike against bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq, a Ukrainian jetliner crashed near Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard. Iranian authorities have said the plane suffered a mechanical failure, but the U.S. and other Western governments believe it was shot down, possibly by mistake.

"The evidence indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a news conference Thursday. "This may well have been unintentional."

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET

Satellite photos taken Wednesday show that an Iranian missile strike has caused extensive damage at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which hosts U.S. and coalition troops.

The photos, taken by the commercial company Planet and shared with NPR via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, show hangars and buildings hit hard by a barrage of Iranian missiles that were fired early Wednesday morning local time.

North Korea doesn't really do Christmas cards, but if it did, its card would probably have a picture of the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, riding a white horse through a snowy wilderness. In fact, North Korean state media released those exact images this month, and the message was clear: Kim, frustrated with how things were going, was pondering a new direction.

A comet from another star will swing by our sun Dec. 8.

Known as 2I/Borisov, it is the first comet to ever be seen coming from interstellar space. But despite its alien origins, astronomers say it actually looks pretty familiar.

"Borisov is a comet very like what we have in our own solar system," says Michele Bannister, a planetary astronomer at Queen's University Belfast told NPR's Short Wave. Whatever planetary system it formed in, "it's a lot like our own."

SpaceX successfully launched 60 communications satellites on Monday using a single rocket.

It's the second time in less than a year that Elon Musk's company has made such a launch, marking a dramatic increase in the number of satellites in orbit.

On Sept. 14, a major Saudi oil processing plant was rocked by a series of explosions. The facility, and another oil field to the south, had been attacked from the air. Here's what we know — at this time — about the attacks based on physical evidence.

The strike was large and sophisticated

On the face of it, NASA's newest probe sounds incredible. Known as Dragonfly, it is a dual-rotor quadcopter (technically an octocopter, even more technically an X8 octocopter); it's roughly the size of a compact car; it's completely autonomous; it's nuclear powered; and it will hover above the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

Iran almost certainly had some role in a major attack on an oil production facility in Saudi Arabia, according to independent analysts reviewing the available evidence.

The question is how big.

The attack came on Sept. 14. Multiple drones or missiles struck Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq facility, causing massive damage and crippling the nation's oil production. The production of 5.7 million barrels of crude oil per day had to be suspended, according to the company.

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A major oil storage terminal on Grand Bahama Island was damaged by Hurricane Dorian and has leaked oil into the surrounding environment, raising concern that the oil could damage local reefs and wildlife.

The South Riding Point facility sits on the shore of the island's eastern side and is home to 10 giant storage tanks capable of holding up to 6.75 million barrels of crude, according to Equinor, the company that runs the facility.

The first thing Melissa Hanham did when she saw President Trump's tweet last week was take a screen grab.

"My reaction was to immediately save the image to my phone just in case it got taken down," she says.

The wording on the tweet was cryptic: "The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir [space launch vehicle] Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran," the president said. "I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One."

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A commercial satellite image shows just how much of Grand Bahama Island is underwater following days of torrential rain and massive storm surge from Hurricane Dorian.

Amateur satellite trackers say they believe an image tweeted by President Trump on Friday came from one of America's most advanced spy satellites.

The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America's multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.

Timothy Koeth's office is crammed with radioactive relics — old watches with glowing radium dials, pieces of melted glass from beneath the test of the world's first nuclear weapon.

But there is one artifact that stands apart from the rest: a dense, charcoal-black cube, 2 inches on a side. The cube is made of pure uranium metal. It was forged more than 70 years ago by the Nazis, and it tells the little-known story of Germany's nuclear efforts during World War II.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

Satellite imagery shared exclusively with NPR shows that an Iranian rocket appears to have exploded on the launch pad Thursday.

In the latest indication that it may be readying an attempt to launch another space rocket, Iran has given its launch pad a fresh coat of paint.

A satellite image taken by the commercial company Planet shows the pad painted a bright blue. The image, taken August 24, was shared with NPR. Until this month, the launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center had been sporting a burn scar from a previous failed launch attempt. It had also been covered in debris from a possible flash flood at the site this past spring.

On Dec. 14, 1972, a capsule carrying Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt lifted off from the lunar surface.

It was the day that humans left the moon.

For a long while, they didn't come back, but that's changing. China, India and even smaller nations like Israel and South Korea are all pursuing robotic moon missions. Their lunar ambitions are being driven both by a desire to flex their technological muscles and by the rise of global nationalism.

Norwegian researchers have completed a survey of a sunken Soviet-era nuclear submarine that went down 30 years ago. The research team found that the sub is leaking a small amount of radiation from its reactors, but that it poses no threat to the surrounding environment.

Updated on Monday at 12:40 p.m. ET

Iran has crossed another line set in the 2015 nuclear deal between it and major world powers.

According to state media, Iran has begun enriching uranium above levels enshrined in the agreement. The move sends a signal that Iran is losing patience with a deal that has not provided the economic relief promised, more than a year after the United States withdrew from the agreement.

Iran is on the verge of crossing a key line included in the nuclear deal it reached with the U.S. and other powers in 2015. As soon as Thursday, it's expected to announce that its uranium stockpiles have exceeded limits set by the deal.

Victoria Girgis was leading a public outreach session at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., when one of her guests noticed a string of lights moving high overhead.

"Occasionally, you'll see satellites, and they look kind of like shooting stars moving through the sky," Girgis says. "But this was a whole line of them all moving together."

In January, a group of high-level military commanders gathered at an air base in Yemen. It was far from the frontlines of the country's ongoing civil war.

Then, without warning, a small drone appeared out of the sky and exploded, spraying the group with shrapnel. According to news reports, the blast killed several, including the Yemeni government's head of military intelligence.

North Korea's newest missile has a striking resemblance to an advanced Russian design, according to experts analyzing images from a test of the weapon on Saturday morning.

The missile, which North Korea describes as a "tactical guided weapon," appears superficially to be nearly identical to Russia's Iskander missile — a highly accurate short-range weapon capable of striking targets more than 150 miles away.

On the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is building what it sees as the future of its energy production.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

A secretive group of scientists who advise the U.S. government on everything from spy satellites to nuclear weapons is scrambling to find a sponsor after the Defense Department abruptly ended its contract late last month.

The group, known as the Jasons, will run out of money at the end of April. The Pentagon says that the group's advice is no longer needed, but independent experts say it has never been more relevant and worry the department is throwing away a valuable resource.

Earlier this year, President Trump laid out an ambitious plan for U.S. missile defenses. "Our goal is simple," Trump said during a speech in January. "To ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States, anywhere, anytime, anyplace."

To reach that goal, the administration's proposed new defense budget calls for hundreds of millions of dollars to study the use of lasers and particle beams in space. "It's new technology," the president said.

Except it isn't.

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