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- SpaceX delays dramatic Crew Dragon abort test
- A mysterious and deadly virus from China could have infected 35 times more people than official totals, scientists warn
- In Montreal, Egyptian Mummies, in 3-D, Have Secrets to Share
Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives is the new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, done with the collaboration of the British Museum. We have a good macro-understanding of ancient Egypt through its architecture, art, economics, and culture from the early dynastic period (3100 b.c. to 2686 b.c.) to the Roman period (30 b.c. — the fall of Antony and Cleopatra — to a.d. 395). Elusive, though, are the particulars of everyday existence such as life span, health, diet, aging, and burial practices, including the process of mummification.Egyptian Mummies is the latest word on these subjects. It’s a fascinating mix of art, science, and the lifestyles of six Egyptians whose mummies date from 900 b.c. to a.d. 180. Technology allows us to see inside the living body, saving countless lives. It also opens to us the doors of the dead. It appeals to the history-minded, the superstitious, the horror-obsessed, and the voyeuristic in all of us.Today, computerized tomography (CT) scanning makes it possible to see and interpret an immense, long-hidden trove of information, thanks in part to the British Museum’s centuries-old ban on unwrapping its mummies. A policy respecting the dead left the mummies undisturbed, or no more disturbed than they already were, having been exhumed and hauled to cold, damp Britain. They don’t exactly sing and dance, but science’s capacity to render layered, 3-D images makes the mummies seem very human. They spill lots of beans on how they lived then. A funerary boat from 1985–1795 b.c., the first object in the show, tells us we’re about to be transported. Tamut (in the feature photo at the top of the article) is my new best friend. From the inscriptions on her inner coffin, we know she started life as a high-ranking priest’s daughter from Thebes — modern Luxor — living around 900 b.c., and she ended as “the Lady of the House,” having married someone rich. Mummification practices evolved over centuries, but in those days, and scanning shows this, her brain was removed and her skull packed with textiles. Her organs were removed, embalmed, and bundled in bags placed in her chest cavity.By 900 b.c., Egypt’s imperial days were gone, but it was just reaching the zenith of mortuary science. Then, to qualify for a happy afterlife, the body needed to look as hale and hearty as possible and kept as intact as possible. So the organs were salvaged, but the organ bundles and the textiles in the skull were arranged both to give Tamut a full-figured look and to disguise disfigurations that occurred during embalming. The goal wasn’t so much to create a good likeness of the dead but to transform the once-living person into a servant of Osiris, the multitasking god whose portfolio included fertility, agriculture, life, the afterlife, and resurrection.Scanning shows the size and design of the jewelry adorning her body, including gold nails on her fingers and toes. Cleverly, the curators made 3-D models of her jewelry displayed in a case. Tamut was mummified with a large sheet-metal falcon ornament and a scarab over what was once her heart. It’s engraved with a spell preventing the gods from discovering the misdeeds in her heart when judgment time comes. Incidentally, scans also show the arterial plaque that probably killed her. After centuries in her grave, Tamut traveled to London light. Her elaborately decorated inner coffin, made of a material like papier-mâché, is impressive. She probably had two outer coffins that disintegrated. The coffin that’s left is gilded and painted with winged gods, beetles, falcons, panthers, and inscriptions. Her father was an “aq” priest, which meant he had access to the most sacred rooms at Karnak. She was, literally, “5’2″, eyes of blue,” though the blue is the color of agate stones placed in her eye sockets. Hardly a flapper, she was buried in dignified luxury, and laid out anew in Montreal in fine form. The curators are good storytellers, which is what a good curator needs to be. The objects give us a documentary and aesthetic feel for Tamut and her world.Irthorru, Nestawedjat, a young temple singer, an unknown two-year-old child, and a young man from Roman Egypt round out the merry band. The Roman mummy, from about a.d. 150, sports at the head of his coffin a lifelike encaustic portrait of a beardless young man with dark, wavy hair and wide eyes in a white mantled tunic. He was in his late teens when he died. While Egyptian religious concepts of the afterlife didn’t change much, death fashions did. With the portrait, his mummy shows the incursion of Roman realism in painted or sculpted portraiture. Whether an emperor or a lesser form of humanity, Romans didn’t idealize. Roman portraits look like real people.I did wonder in walking through the show how the curators would indulge the Canadian reverence for diversity, equity, and inclusion. These mummies were all part of Egypt’s 1 percent, after all. No affirmative action or identity politics was possible. At the end of the show, a wall panel entitled “Diversity” assured us that all was not lost. It’s vague but seemed de rigueur. It notes that Greeks and Romans were abundant in Egypt and that painted shrouds depicting a single figure, probably the corpse, and realistic portraits at the head of the coffin showed “diverse” taste in art, though I’d call it simply the dissemination of new style, which is really part and parcel of the history of art. The young child’s coffin has a gilded, molded plaster mask with stylized hair and a face that’s not a portrait — it’s almost a hundred years earlier that the Roman mummy of the young man — but takes a stab at looking sculpturally lifelike, with a 3-D face. He holds a bouquet of red molded plaster flowers. The archaeologist who discovered the mummy described him as “splendaciously got up.” Nice touches include molded plaster feet with sandals on top of the foot-case and, under the foot-case, paintings of two men in chains. The image suggested the deceased had the power to tread enemies underfoot. Painted on the back of the plaster head is a scene of a nude child flanked by two gods pouring water on his head. The gods hold his hands, as if to assure him he has nothing to fear.There are good sections on dental health — teachable moments on where failure to floss will lead you — and diet. Irthorru ate well — he was a high priest with healthy bones and teeth with usual wear and tear. Our young Roman friend was probably fat, judging from his pelvis and knees, and ate too many sweets, judging from his prematurely rotted teeth. I surmise that by a.d. 150, the Roman Empire was going to the dogs, its young overfed, given to junk food, and definitely not doing their push-ups. Egyptian sculpture in the exhibition depicts scenes of family life. Ancient musical instruments give context to our temple singer.It’s a material culture show, and I didn’t expect the majesty of King Tut, the Rolls-Royce of gold-bedecked graves. It’s an archaeology exhibition and gives people context and perspective. It drives home the not-so-clearly-understood fact that the world didn’t begin the day the first Millennial graced the planet.On the installation, I thought the labels on the cases displaying the coffins were impossible to read. They were placed flat on the side of the cases, at wheelchair level. A beveled label would have been more readable. The entrance to the show was decidedly unceremonial, signaled only by a desk hawking audio tours, with no signage. The big gallery with the coffins was, I thought, too packed with objects. While the museum’s newish modern building is sleek and attractive, the show is in the old building across the street, which is accessed only by a long trek underground, down stairs, up stairs, through winding corridors. By the time I reached Egyptian Mummies, I felt as if I’d traveled the length of the Nile. These are quibbles, though. The building is the architect’s fault, not the curators’. The exhibition is wonderful.The Montreal Museum of Art does amazing shows. Over the past 20 years, the museum has shown daring, imagination, incisive scholarship, and flair. Its show on Walt Disney’s debt to Old Master and 19th-century art was the best show I’ve seen, ever. I loved the Maurice Denis retrospective and shows on Dorothea Rockburne, Tom Wesselman, and Marc Chagall. Its 2017 show, Revolution, treated the late 1960s through painting, music, design, fashion, and film.I can’t say Revolution was magnificent. With 700 objects, it was an excess of abundance that suited the time. It re-created and stylized a repulsive period, revolting in almost every permutation, to give the show’s title a twist, but I still liked it. Montreal is very different, though it’s as close to my home in Vermont as New York and Boston are. The show gave me a “not American” — dare I say “French” — view of the late 1960s, which added a perspective different from mine. The Montreal Museum consistently challenges the mind and never wanders beyond the realm of the aesthetic. It’s an approach I’d suggest to American museums, many of which are too timid, boring, faddish, and preachy.
- Beetles and fire kill dozens of 'indestructible' giant sequoia trees
Beetles and fire kill dozens of 'indestructible' giant sequoia treesDeadly interaction between insects, drought and fire damage have forced California’s park officials to trigger climate crisis plans intended for the 2050s * ‘This is not how sequoias die. It’s supposed to stand for another 500 years’
- Real-Life Iron Man? China is Developing Military Exoskeletons.
With America and Russia developing exoskeletons—essentially the powered armor suits depicted in science fiction and superhero films like Starship Troopers and Iron Man—it was inevitable that China would follow suit.
- US dumps huge amounts of sand on Miami Beach to tackle climate change erosion
Dozens of trucks have started dumping hundreds of thousands of tons of sand on Miami Beach as part of US government measures to protect Florida's tourist destinations against the effects of climate change. "We have erosion hotspots," said Stephen Leatherman, an expert on beaches and the environment at Florida International University. Leatherman -- known locally as "Dr Beach" -- said that rising sea levels, triggered by climate change, are causing the accelerated erosion of the famous beach, as well as coastal storms and in particular hurricanes.
- Space Force flies through Twitter flak after unveiling camo uniforms in earthy tones
The newly minted U.S. Space Force unveiled its uniform on Friday — and defended its fashion statement against Twitter criticism that the camouflage color scheme should have been more spacey. Less than a month after the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces came into existence, the Space Force showed off the utility uniform in a tweet, saying that the service's nametape and U.S. Space Command patch have "touched down at the Pentagon." The uniform will presumably be worn by thousands of Space Force personnel as they go about their duties, monitoring America's space assets from ground-based installations around the… Read More
- Nike's controversial Vaporfly shoes powered the world's 2 fastest marathoners to victory. When I tried them, it felt like running on rocking horses.
- Panicking About Your Kids and Their Phones? The New Research Says Don't.
SAN FRANCISCO -- It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.The latest research, published Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent."There doesn't seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues," said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.The debate over the harm we -- and especially our children -- are doing to ourselves by staring into phones is generally predicated on the assumption that the machines we carry in our pockets pose a significant risk to our mental health.Worries about smartphones have led Congress to pass legislation to examine the impact of heavy smartphone use and pushed investors to pressure big tech companies to change the way they approach young customers.The World Health Organization said last year that infants under a year old should not be exposed to electronic screens and that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than an hour of "sedentary screen time" each day.Even in Silicon Valley, technology executives have made a point of keeping the devices and the software they develop away from their own children.But some researchers question whether those fears are justified. They are not arguing that intensive use of phones does not matter. Children who are on their phones too much can miss out on other valuable activities, like exercise. And research has shown that excessive phone use can exacerbate the problems of certain vulnerable groups, like children with mental health issues.They are, however, challenging the widespread belief that screens are responsible for broad societal problems like the rising rates of anxiety and sleep deprivation among teenagers. In most cases, they say, the phone is just a mirror that reveals the problems a child would have even without the phone.The researchers worry that the focus on keeping children away from screens is making it hard to have more productive conversations about topics like how to make phones more useful for low-income people, who tend to use them more, or how to protect the privacy of teenagers who share their lives online."Many of the people who are terrifying kids about screens, they have hit a vein of attention from society and they are going to ride that. But that is super bad for society," said Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, who has published several studies on the topic.The new article by Odgers and Michaeline R. Jensen, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, comes just a few weeks after the publication of an analysis by Amy Orben, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, and shortly before the planned publication of similar work from Jeff Hancock, the founder of the Stanford Social Media Lab. Both reached similar conclusions."The current dominant discourse around phones and well-being is a lot of hype and a lot of fear," Hancock said. "But if you compare the effects of your phone to eating properly or sleeping or smoking, it's not even close."Hancock's analysis of about 226 studies on the well-being of phone users concluded that "when you look at all these different kinds of well-being, the net effect size is essentially zero."The debate about screen time and mental health goes back to the early days of the iPhone. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a widely cited paper that warned doctors about "Facebook depression."But by 2016, as more research came out, the academy revised that statement, deleting any mention of Facebook depression and emphasizing the conflicting evidence and the potential positive benefits of using social media.Megan Moreno, one of the lead authors of the revised statement, said the original statement had been a problem "because it created panic without a strong basis of evidence."Moreno, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, said that in her own medical practice, she tends to be struck by the number of children with mental health problems who are helped by social media because of the resources and connections it provides.Concern about the connection between smartphones and mental health has also been fed by high-profile works like a 2017 article in The Atlantic -- and a related book -- by psychologist Jean Twenge, who argued that a recent rise in suicide and depression among teenagers was linked to the arrival of smartphones.In her article, "Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation?," Twenge attributed the sudden rise in reports of anxiety, depression and suicide from teens after 2012 to the spread of smartphones and social media.Twenge's critics argue that her work found a correlation between the appearance of smartphones and a real rise in reports of mental health issues, but that it did not establish that phones were the cause.It could, researchers argue, just as easily be that the rise in depression led teenagers to excessive phone use at a time when there were many other potential explanations for depression and anxiety. What's more, anxiety and suicide rates appear not to have risen in large parts of Europe, where phones have also become more prevalent."Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones?" Hancock said. "How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt? There are so many big giant structural issues that have a huge impact on us but are invisible and that we aren't looking at."Twenge remains committed to her position, and she points to several more recent studies by other academics who have found a specific link between social media use and poor mental health. One paper found that when a group of college students gave up social media for three weeks, their sense of loneliness and depression declined.Odgers, Hancock and Przybylski said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, and all have been outspoken critics of the industry on issues other than mental health, such as privacy and the companies' lack of transparency.Odgers added that she was not surprised that people had a hard time accepting her findings. Her own mother questioned her research after one of her grandsons stopped talking to her during the long drives she used to enjoy. But children tuning out their elders when they become teenagers is hardly a new trend, she said.She also reminded her mother that their conversation was taking place during a video chat with Odgers' son -- the kind of intergenerational connection that was impossible before smartphones.Odgers acknowledged that she was reluctant to give her two children more time on their iPads. But she recently tried playing the video game Fortnite with her son and found it an unexpectedly positive experience."It's hard work because it's not the environment we were raised in," she said. "It can be a little scary at times. I have those moments, too."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
- SpaceX gets ready to rehearse worst-case scenario for Crew Dragon spaceflights
SpaceX and NASA are planning a dress rehearsal for something they hope will never happen: a catastrophic failure at virtually the worst time in the launch of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. Fortunately, the closest things to crew members on this in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spaceship are two test dummies, hooked up to sensors that will tell engineers how flesh-and-blood fliers would have weathered the aborted trip. If all goes well, that should take care of the final major hurdle before two actual NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, ride a different Crew… Read More
- A mysterious virus in China is a reminder that the world isn't ready for a pandemic. Bill Gates says we should prepare for a deadly outbreak as we do for war.
- Amazon Web Services enlists AI to help NASA get ahead of solar superstorms
If the sun throws out a radiation blast of satellite-killing proportions someday, Amazon Web Services may well play a role in heading off a technological doomsday. That's the upshot of a project that has NASA working with AWS Professional Services and the Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab to learn more about the early warning signs of a solar superstorm, with the aid of artificial intelligence. Solar storms occur when disturbances on the sun's surface throw off a blasts of radiation and eruptions of electrically charged particles at speeds of millions of miles per hour. A sufficiently strong radiation blast can… Read More
- Microsoft and Univ. of Washington join Georgia Tech team in $25M DNA data storage project
The University of Washington and Microsoft will take part in a federally funded effort to develop data storage techniques using synthetic DNA. The Molecular Information Storage program (also known as MIST) was launched this week by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (also known as IARPA), which is within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It's a multiyear research effort aimed at creating DNA-based storage systems that can archive exabytes of data — that is, billions of gigabytes of data — for millennia. IARPA has awarded MIST contracts to teams led by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the Broad… Read More
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- A gut-wrenching photo of a dead turtle stuck in fishing line puts the plastic problem in stark relief. The image won a prestigious award.
- An avian apocalypse has arrived in North America. Birdsong could become a rare sound.
- A 17-year-old intern at NASA discovered a new planet on his 3rd day on the job
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- How Insects Cope With the Effects of Gravity
You wouldn't think gravity would be a big worry for insects. They're so small. So light. An ant that fell from a second-floor balcony and landed on its head wouldn't even get a bruise.Consequently, scientists have not concerned themselves greatly with what gravity does to insects. But a group of scientists who routinely put grasshoppers into the linear accelerator at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois decided to take a closer look.That's not as strange as it sounds. With synchrotron X-rays, you can get highly detailed images and video, so the Argonne lab is used for medicine and art and archaeology studies, as well as looking inside grasshoppers to see how their bodies work.Jon F. Harrison of Arizona State University and Jake Socha of Virginia Tech have studied insects at Argonne for years, but their work on gravity came about by accident. Some X-rays showed different results when grasshoppers were right side up or upside down.When new tests refined their observations, the researchers learned that gravity has a significant effect on the grasshopper equivalents of blood pressure and breathing. And furthermore, grasshoppers have adaptations that help minimize the disturbance caused by gravity.Insects and gravity have not gotten much, or indeed any attention, Socha said, and the findings could change broader understandings of insect physiology. "People are not studying this," he said. "This is a new discovery." The researchers published their results Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.David Hu at Georgia Tech, whose research addresses the intersection of physics and biology in animals, said, "This study shows that grasshoppers have amazing control of their body pressure at different orientations. The authors' previous work showed that beetles seem to be able to do the same thing." He was not involved in the study."We see insects and assume that just because they're smaller, they're less complicated than us. That's just not true," he said.Harrison and Socha first noticed a problem while they were doing synchrotron X-rays of grasshoppers to study their air sacs, which are a bit like lungs. The results didn't seem to make sense. "We thought we had made a mistake," Socha said.Then they realized that they hadn't been paying attention to whether the grasshopper was head up or head down in the container that held it.Grasshoppers, like other insects, get oxygen through tubes, or trachea that are open to the outside air and branch into smaller and smaller tubes in the insect's body. All insects have these, and some have air sacs, to store and pump air, as grasshoppers do.It turned out that the tubes were more compressed at the bottom of the animal, because gravity was causing the grasshopper equivalent of blood to sink to the bottom half of the animal.This is similar to what happens when humans stand up quickly and become lightheaded, or the way blood goes to the head during a headstand. Humans have valves in the circulatory system to combat this problem, and your heart rate can increase, to pump blood faster.But insects don't have the same system. A grasshopper has a heart, but most of its body had been thought to be like one big bag of blood. Nonetheless, the researchers found that the grasshoppers could substantially counter the effect of gravity when they were conscious. When they were anesthetized with nitrogen, they could not.The researchers found that the grasshoppers could change the pressure in different parts of their body. And the animals were able to keep different pressure in different parts of the body. How they do it is the next question. But they must have some way of blocking off the abdomen from the thorax, say, to create different pressures.The discovery reveals something brand-new about the intersection of physics and biology. For now, it seems to be true in grasshoppers, at the least, and probably beetles, based on another study of Socha's. But all insects are going to be subject to the same physical forces, which few scientists have ever paid attention to before. And it seems unlikely, said Socha, that grasshoppers are the only ones to evolve coping mechanisms.Still, it may be that smaller insects, like fruit flies, don't need to regulate their bodies in the same way. Hu said that ants maintain the same metabolism whether they are walking horizontally or straight up a wall. Future studies will show at what size insects have these adaptations, and what exactly they are.As to the potential practical impact of the findings, Socha said some research on insects is related to human biology, and should take into account these gravitational effects. And Hu said that the discovery could influence the design of so-called lab-on-a-chip devices that use tiny amounts of fluid.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
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- Exposure to flame retardants is causing US kids to lose millions of IQ points. They're more damaging than lead or mercury.
- Dynetics teams up with Sierra Nevada Corp. for NASA’s big lunar lander competition
Alabama-based Dynetics says it's leading a team of companies proposing a crew-carrying lunar lander for NASA, in competition with other companies including Blue Origin and Boeing. One of Dynetics' partners is Sierra Nevada Corp., which is already working on a cargo-carrying space plane called the Dream Chaser for commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station. The Dynetics-SNC team-up was first reported late last week by Space News, and confirmed by tweets from Dynetics and SNC. Dynetics says other companies are on the team but has declined to identify them. NASA's human lander program is aimed at clearing the way… Read More
- A meteor that struck Australia brought indestructible stardust to Earth — the oldest solid material ever found
- Meet Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire giving away $9 million on Twitter and looking for a 'female partner' to fly to the moon with him and Elon Musk
- Analysis: Boeing’s new CEO plays it safe — but more will be needed to get the company flying right
Veteran aerospace executive David Calhoun took the reins as Boeing's CEO today, telling employees in a company-wide email that his top priorities are to get the 737 MAX flying again and restore confidence in the troubled aerospace giant. It was just the kind of email you'd expect Calhoun to send — and that's the problem. In the midst of what's likely to be a yearlong grounding of Boeing's most widely sold airplane, questions about other airplane programs ranging from the 777X to the yet-to-be-announced 797, and a setback to Boeing's CST-100 Starliner space taxi project for NASA, bolder action will… Read More
- How's Your Internship Going? This Teen Found a Planet
The summer before senior year of high school can be a stressful time for a teenager. Childhood is winding down. College applications loom large. Many students are looking for an edge that will help them get into the right school. Last year, Wolf Cukier, 17, spent his summer vacation as few other rising seniors have: He helped discover a planet.Meet TOI 1338 b, the newly identified world orbiting two stars more than 1,300 light years away.Last July, just after he finished his junior year at Scarsdale High School in Scarsdale, New York, Wolf started an internship at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. His job was to scrutinize data that had been beamed back from outer space by TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.A unique aspect of the TESS project is that it invites regular people to volunteer to watch the online transmission for patterns in star brightness that might suggest the existence of a new planet, a sort of crowdsourcing of the universe.During the first week of the internship, as he sifted through data that had been flagged by citizen-scientists, he zeroed in on a system that included two orbiting stars. He identified a body in that system that was later verified as a planet about 6.9 times as large as Earth. His colleagues gave the system a name, TOI 1338, an acronym for TESS Object of Interest, and then called the planet TOI 1338 b."It was awesome," Wolf said in an interview on Friday. "I never expected to find anything. The fact that I found something is cool, and seeing the scientific process and how many people have to work to verify the planet, and techniques for things like that, it is awesome."Wolf had come a long way from peering through the telescope in his room at home in Scarsdale, where light pollution has made it difficult to detect stars.On Monday, scientists involved with the TESS project announced the verification at the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu. It is the first time that the TESS project has discovered a circumbinary planet, which is a planet orbiting two stars, since the two-year program was started in April 2018, a NASA statement said.So far, TOI 1338 b is the only known planet in the system. While NASA's Kepler and K2 missions have previously discovered 12 circumbinary planets, many more of them are expected to be discovered by TESS, the NASA statement said.There is inarguably plenty of space out there to do so."Throughout all of its images, TESS is monitoring millions of stars," said Adina Feinstein, a graduate student at the University of Chicago who was a co-author of the research paper, in the statement.TESS's four cameras, which each capture an image of a patch of sky every 30 minutes, enable scientists to make graphs of changes in the brightness of stars.Any dip in the brightness of a single star is a good indication that a planet has crossed in front of it. But TOI 1338 b was particularly elusive because it involved two stars -- a large star where the planet's transit was easy to detect, and a smaller one where the planet's transit was so small it was not observable.That was where Wolf came in. He initially thought the transit that was later identified as belonging to TOI 1338 b was the smaller star passing in front of the larger one. But the timing seemed off for an eclipse, and Wolf suspected there might be the existence of a planet.The human eye is extremely good at finding such patterns in data, said Veselin Kostov, Wolf's mentor and a research scientist at the SETI Institute and Goddard."These are the types of signals that algorithms really struggle with," he said in the statement.Wolf consulted on his find with his mentor, and a verification process began using archival data from earlier surveys of the system that later became known as TOI 1338. The scientists also enlisted a software package called eleanor -- named after Eleanor Arroway, the central character in Carl Sagan's novel "Contact" -- to confirm the transits were real and not a result of instrumental artifacts, the statement said.Wolf plans to study astrophysics when he starts college in September, he said (he hasn't decided where just yet). He said he was humbled by his contribution to the discovery of the new world, emphasizing the team work in the verification process."We identified a promising candidate," he said. "You can't be arrogant. It is a planet, insofar as we can claim any other exoplanet, pretty much."Has he bragged much about the discovery? Not really.It "just doesn't come up in small talk," he said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
- San Francisco's Treasure Island, a former nuclear-training site, is getting 8,000 new homes. Residents believe the land is making them sick.
- NASA kicks off a new space tradition with glitzy astronaut graduation ceremony
Over the course of six decades, NASA has celebrated the selection of its astronauts in groups ranging from the Mercury 7 of 1959 to the Turtles of 2017 — but there's never been much of a public celebration for their graduation from astronaut training. Until today. The 11 astronaut candidates selected in 2017, plus two Canadian astronauts who joined them in training, received a grand send-off at Johnson Space Center in Texas from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other VIPs to mark their eligibility for assignment to future space missions. NASA raised the graduation ceremony's public profile in part to… Read More
- One of the biggest meteorite crashes in Earth's history flung debris across 3 continents 800,000 years ago. Scientists finally found the crater.
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- NASA and Boeing lay out time frame for reviewing Starliner’s flawed flight and planning next steps
NASA says it's working with Boeing to set up an independent investigation team to review last month's less-than-perfect maiden flight of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner space taxi, and is considering whether another uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station will be required. The uncrewed Starliner capsule had a successful launch and landing, but missed out on its space station rendezvous due to a software glitch. The glitch threw a mission elapsed timer 11 hours out of sync, resulting in the failure to execute an automated engine firing that was required to put the craft on the right orbital course. Docking… Read More
- How Rupert Murdoch Is Influencing Australia's Bush Fire Debate
WOMBEYAN CAVES, Australia -- Deep in the burning forests south of Sydney this week, volunteer firefighters were clearing a track through the woods, hoping to hold back a nearby blaze, when one of them shouted over the crunching of bulldozers."Don't take photos of any trees coming down," he said. "The greenies will get a hold of it, and it'll all be over."The idea that "greenies" or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. But the comment reflects a narrative that's been promoted for months by conservative Australian media outlets, especially the influential newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch.And it's far from the only Murdoch-fueled claim making the rounds. His standard-bearing national newspaper, The Australian, has also repeatedly argued that this year's fires are no worse than those of the past -- not true, scientists say, noting that 12 million acres have burned so far, with 2019 alone scorching more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined.And on Wednesday, Murdoch's News Corp., the largest media company in Australia, was found to be part of another wave of misinformation. An independent study found online bots and trolls exaggerating the role of arson in the fires, at the same time that an article in The Australian making similar assertions became the most popular offering on the newspaper's website.It's all part of what critics see as a relentless effort led by the powerful media outlet to do what it has also done in the United States and Britain -- shift blame to the left, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change."It's really reckless and extremely harmful," said Joelle Gergis, an award-winning climate scientist at the Australian National University. "It's insidious because it grows. Once you plant those seeds of doubt, it stops an important conversation from taking place."News Corp. denied playing such a role. "Our coverage has recognized Australia is having a conversation about climate change and how to respond to it," the company said in an email. "The role of arsonists and policies that may have contributed to the spread of fire are, however, legitimate stories to report in the public interest."Yet, for many critics, the Murdoch approach suddenly looks dangerous. They are increasingly connecting News Corp. to the spread of misinformation and the government's lackluster response to the fires. They argue that the company and the coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison are responsible -- together, as a team -- for the failure to protect a country that scientists say is more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed nation.Editors and columnists for News Corp. were among the loudest defenders of Morrison after he faced blowback for vacationing in Hawaii as the worst of the fire season kicked off in December.In late December, the Oz, as the News Corp.-owned paper is known here, heavily promoted an interview with the government's energy minister, Angus Taylor, warning that "top-down" pressure from the United Nations to address climate change would fail -- followed by an opinion piece from Taylor on New Year's Eve.Other News Corp. outlets followed a similar playbook. Melbourne's Herald Sun, for example, pushed news of the bush fires to page four on New Year's Eve, even as they threatened to devastate towns nearby and push thick smoke into the city.Days later, residents in a town nearly flattened by the fires heckled and snubbed Morrison during a visit to assess the damage. A new hire for Murdoch's Sky News channel, Chris Smith, branded them "ferals" -- slang for unkempt country hobos.As is often the case at Murdoch outlets around the world, there have been exceptions to the company line -- a story about Australian golfer Greg Norman's declaration that "there is climate change taking place"; an interview with an international expert who explained why this year's fires are unique.But a search for "climate change" in the main Murdoch outlets mostly yields stories condemning protesters who demand more aggressive action from the government; editorials arguing against "radical climate change policy"; and opinion columns emphasizing the need for more backburning to control fires -- if only the left-wing greenies would allow it to happen.The Australian Greens party has made clear that it supports such hazard-reduction burns, issuing a statement online saying so.Climate scientists do acknowledge that there is room for improvement when it comes to burning the branches and dead trees on the ground that can fuel fires. But they also say that no amount of preventive burning will offset the impact of rising temperatures that accelerate evaporation, dry out land and make already-arid Australia a tinderbox.Even fire officials report that most of the offseason burns they want to do are not hindered by land-use laws, but by weather -- including the lengthier fire season and more extreme precipitation in winter that scientists attribute to climate change.Still, the Murdoch outlets continue to resist. "It is too soon to reach conclusions about what is causing the fires," said an editorial on Monday in the Bairnsdale Advertiser, one of the many small regional papers owned by News Corp. It went on to say that Morrison prefers to wait "until the full story is told," as if there were doubt about climate change's role -- a stance that fits hand in glove with government officials' frequent dismissals of the "bogey man of climate change."It's that echoing between officialdom and Murdoch media that has many people so concerned."Leaders should be held to account and they should be held to account by the media," said Penny D. Sackett, a physicist, astronomer and former chief scientist for Australia.Dr. Timothy Graham, a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, who conducted the study of Twitter accounts exaggerating the role of arson in Australia's fires, said media companies also needed to be cognizant of the disinformation ecosystem and stop contributing to the problem. That includes mainstream outlets, like the Australian Broadcasting Corp., sharing inaccurate maps that exaggerate the reach of the fires.But in the case of the arson issue, he said, scores of bots and trolls -- many of which previously posted support for President Donald Trump -- have joined conservative media like the Murdoch outlets in promoting the idea that Australia's fires were not a "climate emergency" but an "arson emergency.""Maybe 3% to 5% of fires could be attributed to arson, that's what scientists tell us -- nevertheless, media outlets, especially those that tend to be partisan, jump on that," Graham said.Of course, it is often hard to know just how much influence any media company has. Gerard Henderson, a columnist for The Australian, said he didn't think there was much need to address climate change because it was already a focal point across the rest of the media."It's hard to distract from climate change because it's spoken about constantly," he said.But there are signs that the Murdoch message is making headway -- at least in terms of what people prioritize. Many firefighters working the smoky hills south of Sydney hesitated to state their views on climate change this week (some said they were told by senior leaders to avoid the issue). But they were quick to argue for more backburning.Similarly, in Bairnsdale, Tina Moon, whose farm was devastated by the fires, said she was mostly furious about the government's failure to clear the land around her property."I don't think it's climate change," she said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
- Scientists link mysterious snippets of DNA to cell growth and tumor suppression
Why do some strings of genetic code remain virtually unchanged despite tens of millions of years of evolutionary divergence? A newly published study that takes advantage of the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR has found that at least some of those DNA strings are essential to keep healthy cells growing and block the growth of tumor cells. The research, published today in Nature Genetics, is the "first study finding large-scale importance of these highly conserved elements," senior author Rob Bradley of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said in a news release. Bradley and his colleagues say unraveling the mysteries… Read More
- The Egyptian pyramids may align with an ancient north star. NASA scientists found that star undergoes never-before-seen eclipses.
- Koala Mittens and Baby Bottles: Saving Australia's Animals After Fires
WATERHOLES, Australia -- The convoy of vehicles fleeing a raging inferno in the forest of southeastern Australia ferried a copious cargo: 11 koalas, 15 kangaroos, five chickens, two possums, two dogs and a lorikeet.Susan Pulis, who runs a wildlife shelter, had rallied her friends to pack the animals in blankets and baskets and take them to safety on the coast. One friend gutted her downstairs bedroom to house five of the kangaroos. Pulis has kept the youngest joeys in quilt pouches in another's living room."Since the fires, they are very different," she said of the animals, "very on edge."As wildfires have killed at least 24 people, destroyed more than 1,400 homes and ravaged 15 million acres, they have also inflicted a grievous toll on Australia's renowned wildlife. Hundreds of millions of animals, many found on no other continent, may have perished, according to some estimates, devastating the country's unique ecosystems."We will have taken many species that weren't threatened close to extinction, if not to extinction," said Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist and botanist at Curtin University, in Perth.Even the animals that survived, scampering away or hunkering down, may die from dehydration or starvation, Dixon added. "It's a biological Armageddon rarely seen," he said.Wildlife in Australia was already under threat before these fires, as humans have changed the landscape. Agribusiness is among the top contributors to deforestation, which decimates wildlife populations, scientists say.The astronomical estimates of animal losses and the heart-rending images of singed koalas during this disastrous fire season have spread the concern worldwide. Quilters in the Netherlands have made mittens for koalas with burned paws. New Zealanders are stitching joey pouches and bat wraps.Some experts have been dubious of the high numbers that have spread widely on social media, which are based on estimates of population densities of mammals, birds and reptiles from previously published studies. The death toll is arrived at by multiplying the number of animals expected to inhabit a given area by the total acreage burned.But it is impossible to know how many animals managed to flee, for instance. Limited access to the burned lands, as well as the difficulty of documenting individual animal deaths, complicate efforts to assess the scale of the damage.Whatever the numbers, it is clear that the devastation is immense, scientists say."It's dangerous to put a number to them," said Corey Bradshaw, a fellow in ecology at Flinders University in Adelaide, in the south. But, he added, "there's no question there has been deaths."At least a quarter of the koala population may have been lost in New South Wales, according to various estimates. Significant numbers of the southern brown bandicoot and the long-footed potoroo, a kind of wallaby whose entire habitat has been ravaged by fire, have also most likely been lost.On Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, experts said thousands of kangaroos and koalas had been killed in the fire that has now ravaged a third of the island. There are also grave fears for the fate of a subspecies of glossy black cockatoos, of which there were only about 300 to 370 remaining before the fires.It is not only wildlife that has been ravaged. In Batlow, 285 miles southwest of Sydney, a video taken by a reporter showed the scorched corpses of sheep and cows strewn along a highway. Carcasses like these have raised biological fears around the country.Buchan, a farming region in the southern state of Victoria, has also been badly affected, with farmers having to put down burned livestock at a time when drought had already made earning a living nearly impossible. Farmers in the nearby town of Bairnsdale said that a cattle sale was planned Thursday to unload their remaining livestock, some of which may be injured.Tina Moon, a farmer in Sarsfield, a town in Victoria's southeast, said many burned cattle in the region had to be euthanized. She said she had saved her house, but had no idea how she would make an income in the coming months.To protect Australia's wildlife, rescuers like Pulis, who fled the forest for the coast late last month, are battling immense changes to the country's landscape on a tiny scale. They cannot save Australia's wildlife on their own, but their work is reinforcing scientists' judgment that intervention will be increasingly necessary to protect animals on a hotter, more fiery planet.Around the country, people have banded together to help feed, find and rehabilitate survivors.In the fire-ravaged town of Mallacoota, one man says he has rescued nine koalas, for which the community is working to build a shelter. Others have left out seed, water and grasses for dehydrated and hungry fauna."I know it doesn't bring back properties, but for some it can give a sense of not giving up the fight," said Katharine Catelotti, of Sydney, whose family lost a small shack in Wollomombi, more than 300 miles north of the city, and has been putting feed out for wildlife as well as keeping a small number in her home.The task for others has been more grim. One woman told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that she was checking the pouches of dead kangaroos for joeys and marking the ones without them so that other searchers would not have to repeat her efforts.For Pulis, evacuating her few animals -- which had already been rescued, some of them more than once, from starvation, dog attacks and car accidents -- was simply part of life.In 2013, she founded a wildlife shelter on Raymond Island, a town just off the coast, with the intention of rehabilitating injured and abandoned creatures. In August, she relocated to Waterholes, 30 miles inland, because of the clearing of the island's trees, which had made it impossible for her to release the koalas into an environment where they could find sufficient food.Somehow, her property in Waterholes, threatened twice by fires this season, remains standing, a lush oasis at the end of a blackened road in the eastern Victoria region of East Gippsland, where smoldering and fallen trees, charred earth and melted road signs stretch for hundreds of miles."It's a holocaust," Pulis said as she drove toward her home Monday for the first time since blistering heat brought through a ferocious fire front.Cool weather and rain have since brought a reprieve. But smoke still hung in the air. As she reached the track leading to her property, Pulis began to cry."This was my koala feed," she said of the scorched eucalyptus trees, which used to provide leaves for her animals. "It was absolutely alive."At her property, Pulis tended to the stressed and dehydrated kangaroos she had been forced to leave behind. She gave each an injection to relieve their pain -- they had most likely hopped so frantically away from the burning forest that they had injured themselves -- and refreshed their water, which was contaminated by ash.On Saturday, as yards-high flames threatened her property for a second time, Pulis' friend Jason Nicholson defended it with a hose and hundreds of gallons of water.Neither could believe that it remained intact -- the garden surrounding it still green, with cockatoos calling from the trees. They said they expected that wildlife, pushed out by the fires, would congregate in what was now a garden of Eden among miles of decimated forest."The difference is here, you hear the birds," Nicholson said. "Out there, it's quiet. Deadly quiet."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
- Mighty Mice splash down aboard SpaceX Dragon cargo ship after zero-G study on space station
A troop of muscle-enhanced mice was among more than 3,500 pounds of experiments and equipment that came back to Earth today when a robotic SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of a monthlong resupply mission to the International Space Station. Mighty Mice in Space is an experiment studying mice who have been bred to lack myostatin, a growth factor that normally limits muscle growth in mice and humans. The study could point to strategies for combating muscle loss during extended periods in zero gravity, which is an occupational hazard for astronauts. Dozens of… Read More
- A pair of supermassive black holes are stuck in a collision between galaxies. Astronomers caught the chaos on camera.