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  • A Black Hole Threw a Star Out of the Milky Way Galaxy

    A Black Hole Threw a Star Out of the Milky Way GalaxyThere are fastballs, and then there are cosmic fastballs. Now it seems that the strongest arm in our galaxy might belong to a supermassive black hole that lives smack in the middle of the Milky Way.Astronomers recently discovered a star whizzing out of the center of our galaxy at the seriously blinding speed of 4 million mph. The star, which goes by the typically inscrutable name S5-HVS1, is currently about 29,000 light-years from Earth, streaking through the Grus, or Crane, constellation in the southern sky. It is headed for the darkest, loneliest depths of intergalactic space.The runaway star was spotted by an international team of astronomers led by Ting Li of the Carnegie Observatories. They were using a telescope in Australia for a study known as the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey -- the S5. The star is about twice as massive as our own sun and ten times more luminous, according to Li.Drawing on data from the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft, which has charted the positions and motions of some 1.3 billion stars in the Milky Way, the astronomers traced the streaking star back to the galactic center. That is the home of a black hole known as Sagittarius A*, a gravitational monster with the mass of 4 million suns.The astronomers hypothesize that the runaway star was once part of a double-star system that came too close to the black hole. One of the pair fell in, and the other was sling-shotted away at hyperspeed. The process, a three-body gravitational dance, was first predicted by Jack Hills, a theorist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in 1988.The dance with S5-HVS1 unfolded about 5 million years ago, according to Li and her team, which included Sergey Koposov of Carnegie Mellon University, lead author of a paper describing the results published Tuesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.The astronomers estimate that in about 100 million years the star will have exited the Milky Way entirely. It is yet another example of nature's ability to mix things up -- tossing comets from faraway stars into our solar system, and flinging ice, rock and who knows what else between the planets on asteroids.Out there, drifting among the other galaxies of the Local Group, far from the crowded circumstances of its birth, the star called S5-HVS1 will exhaust its thermonuclear fuel in about 2 billion years, blow up and die, alone. Like some people going off to college, say, some stars leave home and never come back.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detector

    Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detectorAstronauts launched an extraordinarily complicated series of spacewalks Friday to fix a cosmic ray detector at the International Space Station. Armed with dozens of dissecting tools, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. “OK, 3-2-1, release,” Morgan said as he let go of the 4-foot-long (127-centimeter) shield high above the Pacific.


  • NASA watchdog report sharpens debate over cost of SpaceX vs. Boeing spaceships

    NASA watchdog report sharpens debate over cost of SpaceX vs. Boeing spaceshipsBoeing is in line to get paid substantially more per seat than SpaceX for astronaut trips to the International Space Station, in part because it negotiated an increase in what was meant to be a fixed-cost contract, NASA's Office of the Inspector General says in a watchdog report. The 53-page report, issued Thursday, estimates the per-seat cost for flights on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule at $90 million, which would be more than the $84 million or so that NASA has been paying the Russians for rides on their Soyuz spacecraft. In contrast, the price for a seat on a SpaceX… Read More


  • Spaceflight Industries is raising more cash as satellite deals heat up on the final frontier

    Spaceflight Industries is raising more cash as satellite deals heat up on the final frontierSeattle-based Spaceflight Industries, which has taken on a string of high-profile satellite missions over the past year, is in the midst of a new funding round, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Nov. 14 filing indicates that nearly $39.5 million of the offered amount has been sold to 33 investors, leaving $389,580 remaining in the round. We've reached out to Spaceflight Industries for comment on the filing, and will update this report with whatever we can pass along from the company. Founded in 2010, Spaceflight Industries has two subsidiaries: Spaceflight Inc., which handles pre-launch logistics… Read More


  • Kid-friendly lunar rover takes the spotlight in the city where moon buggies were born

    Kid-friendly lunar rover takes the spotlight in the city where moon buggies were bornKENT, Wash. — The City of Kent's newest lunar rover wouldn't stand up to the radiation-blasted conditions on the surface of the moon, but it's designed to endure a testing ground that's nearly as harsh: a park playground. A kid-friendly reproduction of the moon buggies that transported astronauts around the lunar surface during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions of 1971-1972 had its unveiling on Thursday night here at the Accesso Showare Center, which more typically plays host to the Seattle Thunderbirds' hockey games. Boeing historian and archivist Mike Lombardi says the rover is a slapshot score. "Two thumbs… Read More


  • Wildfires Leave Vulnerable Koalas at Further Risk

    Wildfires Leave Vulnerable Koalas at Further RiskMELBOURNE, Australia -- The victims were carried in one by one, their paws burned and fur singed, suffering from dehydration and fear. Their caretakers bandaged their wounds, swaddled them and laid them in baskets with the only thing that was familiar -- the leaves of a eucalyptus tree.As catastrophic fires have burned more than 2 million acres in Australia, dozens of koalas have been rescued from smoldering trees and ashen ground. The animals, already threatened as a species before these latest blazes ravaged a crucial habitat, are being treated in rescue centers and at least one private home along the country's east coast."They are terrified," said Cheyne Flanagan, clinical director of the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, the only facility of its kind in the world. She added that what was happening to the koalas was "a national tragedy."Officials at the hospital began warning weeks ago, when the fires first ignited around Port Macquarie, 250 miles north of Sydney, that hundreds of koalas may have been "incinerated." Rescuers have not yet been able to confirm the scope of the loss because some of the blazes are still raging.The plight of the koala -- a national symbol of Australia -- has raised questions among conservationists and scientists about what it will take to preserve biodiversity in a country increasingly prone to intense fire, extreme heat and water scarcity, and which already has among the highest rates of species extinction in the world.While koalas have evolved to exist alongside wildfires, the animals are facing new threats not just from climate change but also from human development, which has dislocated local populations, impairing their ability to survive fires. In some regions, scientists said, koalas' numbers have declined by up to 80%, though it is difficult to know how many remain across Australia."We have these unique animals not found anywhere else on this planet, and we're killing them," Flanagan said. "This is a big wake-up call."The animal distress goes beyond koalas. Recently, tens of thousands of bats plummeted from the sky in temperatures exceeding 107 degrees Fahrenheit in northern Australia. Kangaroos, parched by drought, decimated the grapes on a vineyard in Canberra. And waterfowl in the Macquarie Marshes, a wildlife haven in northwest New South Wales, have been affected by a fire in their habitat."It's a swamp, for goodness' sake; it's burning," said David Bowman, a professor of pyrogeography and fire science at the University of Tasmania. The current bush fires, the earlier burning of rainforests and a continuing extreme drought, he said, are all "warning lights" that ecosystems have been pushed far beyond their normal patterns.Climate change and other human impacts have so altered the landscape that the government needs to urgently rethink its approach to conservation, Bowman said, suggesting interventions like irrigating, feeding and relocating animals."You want koalas?" he said. "That's what we've got to do."In the weeks that the fires have been burning around Port Macquarie, more than two-thirds of the habitat of a local population of koalas in the forest surrounding two lakes has been decimated, conservationists said.They estimated that 350 of the nearly 700 koalas that lived in the region had been killed. As of Thursday, 22 adult koalas and one joey had been rescued. They are being treated at the Koala Hospital along with dozens of other animals, including kangaroos and possums that were injured in dog attacks or car accidents -- often the collateral damage of creatures searching for a new home after a disaster.About 50 miles south of the hospital, in Taree, one family has transformed its home into a koala rehabilitation center. There, 24 animals, each given a name on a Post-it note attached to its basket, are beginning the slow road to recovery in the couple's living room."Somebody has to look after them because nobody else is doing too much, as far as the government, in protecting their habitat and protecting them," Christeen McLeod, who is housing the koalas, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "So we do this," she added, "and hope that we can save some of them."Koalas, unlike kangaroos, birds or snakes, do not flee from fires but instead scale trees to the canopy, where they can curl themselves into a ball for protection and wait for the danger to pass.But during high-intensity fires, such as those that have burned in recent weeks, the animals, conservationists said, are far less likely to survive. Even if the fire itself does not reach the tree canopy, the animals may overheat and fall to the ground, where they can be burned to death. They can also suffer smoke inhalation or burn their paws or claws when trying to climb down trees.Claws, crucial for life in the wild, do not grow back. A "koala who can't climb can't survive," said Sue Ashton, director of the Koala Hospital.She said that while the hospital hoped to rehabilitate and eventually release the animals, it was likely that some would have to be euthanized. That, she added, would be a further blow to conservation efforts.Although the fires are still burning, a rescue team led by the hospital began to search the periphery last week, walking in a human chain, their necks strained toward the tree canopy, searching for survivors.The rescuers described a lifeless scene free of birds and insects, with the forest undergrowth gone, reeds burned in a creek, and hollowed-out trees still smoking."This fire is currently still burning," said Scott Castle, assistant clinical director at the hospital, who participated in the effort. "So," he added, "there's a lot more to search."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • More than 50% of insects have disappeared since 1970, an ecologist warns — even more evidence of an 'insect apocalypse'

    More than 50% of insects have disappeared since 1970, an ecologist warns — even more evidence of an 'insect apocalypse'A new report reveals that 50% or more of insects have disappeared since 1970 due to habitat loss and pesticide use.


  • A troubling new study shows that legalizing marijuana is linked with an increase in problematic pot use among teens

    A troubling new study shows that legalizing marijuana is linked with an increase in problematic pot use among teensRecreational marijuana is legal in 11 states, and some Democratic presidential candidates have said the drug should become legal nationwide.


  • SpaceX executes ground-based test firing for Crew Dragon’s launch escape system

    SpaceX executes ground-based test firing for Crew Dragon’s launch escape systemSpaceX went the distance today with a static-fire test of its Crew Dragon space taxi's launch escape system — the same type of test that ended in a costly explosion when it was conducted in April. A photo released after the firing shows the Crew Dragon's SuperDraco thrusters blazing away on the test stand at SpaceX's Florida facility. The full-duration firing brings the company one step closer to flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station next year. "SpaceX and NASA teams are now reviewing test data and working toward an in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon's launch escape system," SpaceX… Read More


  • After visiting asteroid, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe heads back to Earth with samples

    After visiting asteroid, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe heads back to Earth with samplesJapan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft and its science team bid a bittersweet farewell to the asteroid Ryugu, 180 million miles from Earth, and began the months-long return trip to Earth with a precious set of samples. "This is an emotional moment!" the team tweeted on Tuesday. “It's sad to say goodbye to Ryugu,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's command center. “Literally it has been at the center of our lives over the past one and a half years.” The farewell isn't finished quite yet, however. Over the next few days, Hayabusa 2's camera will capture… Read More


  • ‘Ultima Thule’ no more: New Horizons’ space snowman is named Arrokoth

    ‘Ultima Thule’ no more: New Horizons’ space snowman is named ArrokothThe snowman-shaped object that NASA's New Horizons probe flew past nearly a year ago on the solar system's icy fringe now has a Native American name: Arrokoth, a word that means "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. Arrokoth replaces earlier labels for the Kuiper Belt object, including the numerical designation 2014 MU69 and the nickname Ultima Thule, which turned out to be rather controversial. Members of the New Horizons science team announced today that their proposed name has won approval by the International Astronomical Union and its Minor Planet Center. Before making the proposal, the scientists won the consent of elders… Read More


  • Hurricanes on the scale of Katrina and Harvey are now 3 times more likely than a century ago: 'We cannot hope to combat storms'

    Hurricanes on the scale of Katrina and Harvey are now 3 times more likely than a century ago: 'We cannot hope to combat storms'A new study reveals that extremely damaging hurricanes are becoming more frequent relative to moderate storms, likely due to climate change.


  • Mercury is traveling across the sun for the last time until 2032. Here's how to watch the rare transit.

    Mercury is traveling across the sun for the last time until 2032. Here's how to watch the rare transit.The Mercury transit won't appear in space again until 2032. But if you want to watch the event, don't look at the sun without protection.


  • Officials believe vitamin E oil is playing a pivotal role in the outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses, after 39 deaths

    Officials believe vitamin E oil is playing a pivotal role in the outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses, after 39 deathsInvestigators said vitamin E acetate, an ingredient found in canola, soy, and corn oil, appears to be playing a pivotal role in the spate of vaping-related lung illnesses during a call with reporters on Friday.


  • When the Andromeda galaxy crashes into the Milky Way, this is what it could look like from Earth

    When the Andromeda galaxy crashes into the Milky Way, this is what it could look like from EarthThe Milky Way is on track to collide with the Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years. NASA images reveal what the night sky might look like.


  • Boeing traces problem with Starliner parachute system to an unsecured pin

    Boeing traces problem with Starliner parachute system to an unsecured pinFor want of a pin, the use of a spaceship's parachute was lost. That may be a simplistic way to explain why one of the three parachutes on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner space taxi failed to open. It does, however, serve as a cautionary tale about the one obvious glitch in Monday's pad abort test of the Starliner, a craft that's due to start transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station next year. Overall, the test was judged a success: The uncrewed Starliner fired the rocket engines on its launch abort system, slowed its descent with the aid… Read More


  • Photos from space reveal what climate change looks like, from melting Arctic ice to rampant California fires

    Photos from space reveal what climate change looks like, from melting Arctic ice to rampant California firesExtreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires are linked to climate change. Such phenomena can be seen from space.


  • NASA cracks open a sample of moon soil that’s been shut away for four decades

    NASA cracks open a sample of moon soil that’s been shut away for four decadesFor the first time in more than 40 years, NASA has opened up a pristine sample of moon dirt and rocks that was collected during the Apollo missions. Scientists hope that a close analysis of the material from a 2-foot-long, nearly 2-inch-wide core sample will help astronauts get ready for a new series of Artemis moon missions in the 2020s. When Apollo's moonwalkers collected samples of lunar soil and rock, also known as regolith, some of those samples were tucked away at NASA's Johnson Space Center with the expectation that analytical tools would improve over the course of the decades… Read More


  • 2019’s Allen Distinguished Investigators will focus on the mysteries of our cells

    2019’s Allen Distinguished Investigators will focus on the mysteries of our cellsThe Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of Seattle's Allen Institute, is making a total of $7.5 million in awards to its latest class of five biomedical researchers. The themes for this year's Allen Distinguished Investigators focus on stem cell therapies and single-cell interactions in their native environments. “The field of stem cell biology has the potential to change how we treat diseases by helping precision medicine, and there’s so much we still don’t understand about the interplay between cells in living tissues or organs,” Kathy Richmond, director of the Frontiers Group, said today in a news release. "Our… Read More


  • Spaceflight and Rocket Lab will put a Japanese shooting-star satellite into orbit

    Spaceflight and Rocket Lab will put a Japanese shooting-star satellite into orbitSeattle-based Spaceflight says it's handling the pre-launch logistics for a Japanese satellite that's designed to spray artificial shooting stars into the sky. Tokyo-based ALE's spacecraft is just one of seven satellites due to be sent into orbit from New Zealand as early as Nov. 25, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. It'll be the 10th Electron launch, earning the nickname "Running Out of Fingers." It'll also be the first launch to test the guidance and navigation hardware as well as the sensors that Rocket Lab will eventually use to help make the Electron's first stage recoverable. No recovery will… Read More


  • Boeing proposes lunar lander for NASA crews, rivaling Blue Origin (and SpaceX?)

    Boeing proposes lunar lander for NASA crews, rivaling Blue Origin (and SpaceX?)Boeing says it has submitted its proposal for a lunar lander capable of putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024, joining a competition that includes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture and most likely SpaceX as well. Today marked the deadline for submissions. NASA says it's aiming to select at least two proposed landing systems by January for further development. Two separate teams could be selected to build landers for moon missions in 2024 and 2025. NASA envisions a system that includes a transfer vehicle to ferry a lander from a lunar-orbiting Gateway outpost to… Read More


  • Why Didn't She Get Alzheimer's? The Answer Could Hold a Key to Fighting the Disease

    Why Didn't She Get Alzheimer's? The Answer Could Hold a Key to Fighting the DiseaseThe woman's genetic profile showed she would develop Alzheimer's by the time she turned 50.A member of the world's largest family to suffer from Alzheimer's, she, like generations of her relatives, was born with a gene mutation that causes people to begin having memory and thinking problems in their 40s and deteriorate rapidly toward death around age 60.But remarkably, she experienced no cognitive decline at all until her 70s, nearly three decades later than expected.How did that happen? New research provides an answer, one that experts say could change the scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease and inspire new ideas about how to prevent and treat it.In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers say the woman, whose name they withheld to protect her privacy, has another mutation that has protected her from dementia even though her brain has developed a major neurological feature of Alzheimer's disease.This ultra rare mutation appears to help stave off the disease by minimizing the binding of a particular sugar compound to an important gene. That finding suggests that treatments could be developed to give other people that same protective mechanism."I'm very excited to see this new study come out -- the impact is dramatic," said Dr. Yadong Huang, a senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, who was not involved in the research. "For both research and therapeutic development, this new finding is very important."A drug or gene therapy would not be available any time soon because scientists first need to replicate the protective mechanism found in this one patient by testing it in laboratory animals and human brain cells.Still, this case comes at a time when the Alzheimer's field is craving new approaches after billions of dollars have been spent on developing and testing treatments and some 200 drug trials have failed. It has been more than 15 years since the last treatment for dementia was approved, and the few drugs available do not work very well for very long.The woman is entering her late 70s now and lives in Medellin, the epicenter for an extended Colombian family of about 6,000 people whose members have been plagued with dementia for centuries, a condition they called "La Bobera" -- "the foolishness" -- and attributed to superstitious causes.Decades ago, a Colombian neurologist, Dr. Francisco Lopera, began painstakingly collecting the family's birth and death records in Medellin and remote Andes mountain villages. He documented the sprawling family tree and took dangerous risks in guerrilla and drug-trafficking territory to cajole relatives of people who died with dementia into giving him their brains for analysis.Through this work, Lopera, whose brain bank at the University of Antioquia now contains 300 brains, helped discover that their Alzheimer's was caused by a mutation on a gene called Presenilin 1.While this type of hereditary early-onset dementia accounts for only a small proportion of the roughly 30 million people worldwide with Alzheimer's, it is important because unlike most forms of Alzheimer's, the Colombian version has been traced to a specific cause and a consistent pattern. So Lopera and a team of American scientists have spent years studying the family, searching for answers both to help the Colombians and to address the mounting epidemic of the more typical old-age Alzheimer's disease.When they found that the woman had the Presenilin 1 mutation, but had not yet even developed a pre-Alzheimer's condition called mild cognitive impairment, the scientists were mystified."We have a single person who is resilient to Alzheimer's disease when she should be at high risk," said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix and a leader of the research team.The woman was flown to Boston, where some of the researchers are based, for brain scans and other tests. Those results were puzzling, said Yakeel Quiroz, a Colombian neuropsychologist who directs the familial dementia neuroimaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.The woman's brain was laden with the foremost hallmark of Alzheimer's: plaques of amyloid protein."The highest levels of amyloid that we have seen so far," said Quiroz, adding that the excessive amyloid probably accumulated because the woman has lived much longer than other family members with the Alzheimer's-causing mutation.But the woman had few other neurological signs of the disease -- not much of a protein called tau, which forms tangles in Alzheimer's brains, and little neurodegeneration or brain atrophy."Her brain was functioning really well," said Quiroz, who, like Reiman, is a senior author of the study. "Compared to people who are 45 or 50, she's actually better."She said the woman, who raised four children, had only one year of formal education and could barely read or write, so it was unlikely her cognitive protection came from educational stimulation."She has a secret in her biology," Lopera said. "This case is a big window to discover new approaches."Quiroz consulted Dr. Joseph Arboleda-Velasquez, who, like her, is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School (he is also Quiroz's husband). Arboleda-Velasquez, a cell biologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, conducted extensive genetic testing and sequencing, determining that the woman has an extremely rare mutation on a gene called APOE.APOE is important in general-population Alzheimer's. One variant, APOE4, present in about 14% of people, greatly increases risk and is present in 40% of people with Alzheimer's. People with another variant, APOE2, occurring in about 7% of the population, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's, while those with the most common variant, APOE3, are in the middle.The Colombian woman has two copies of APOE3, but both copies have a mutation called Christchurch (for the New Zealand city where it was discovered). The Christchurch mutation is extremely rare, but several years ago, Reiman's daughter Rebecca, a technologist, helped determine that a handful of Colombian family members have that mutation on one of their APOE genes. They developed Alzheimer's as early as their relatives, though -- unlike the woman with mutations on both APOE genes."The fact that she had two copies, not just one, really kind of sealed the deal," Arboleda-Velasquez said.The woman's mutation is in an area of the APOE gene that binds with a sugar-protein compound called heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG), which is involved in spreading tau in Alzheimer's disease.In laboratory experiments, the researchers found that the less a variant of APOE binds to HSPG, the less it is linked to Alzheimer's. With the Christchurch mutation, there was barely any binding.That, said Arboleda-Velasquez, "was the piece that completed the puzzle because, 'Oh, this is how the mutation has such a strong effect.'"Researchers were also able to develop a compound that, in laboratory dish experiments, mimicked the action of the mutation, suggesting it's possible to make drugs that prevent APOE from binding to HSPG.Dr. Guojun Bu, who studies APOE, said that while the findings involved a single case and more research is needed, the implications could be profound."When you have delayed onset of Alzheimer's by three decades, you say wow," said Bu, chairman of the neuroscience department at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, who was not involved in the study.He said the research suggests that instead of drugs attacking amyloid or tau, which have failed in many clinical trials, a medication or gene therapy targeting APOE could be promising.Reiman, who led another newly published study showing that APOE has a bigger impact on a person's risk of getting Alzheimer's than previously thought, said potential treatments could try to reduce or even silence APOE activity in the brain. People born without APOE appear to have no cognitive problems, but they do have very high cholesterol that requires treatment.Huang, who wrote a commentary about the study and is affiliated with two companies focusing on potential APOE-related treatments, said the findings also challenge a leading Alzheimer's theory about the role of amyloid.Since the woman had huge amounts of amyloid but few other Alzheimer's indicators, "it actually illustrates, to my knowledge for the first time, a very clear dissociation of amyloid accumulation from tau pathology, neurodegeneration and even cognitive decline," he said.Lopera said the woman is just beginning to develop dementia, and he recently disclosed her genetic profile to her four adult children, who each have only one copy of the Christchurch mutation.The researchers are also evaluating a few other members of the Colombian family, who appear to also have some resistance to Alzheimer's. They are not as old as the woman, and they do not have the Christchurch mutation, but the team hopes to find other genetic factors from studying them and examine whether those factors operate along the same or different biological pathways, Reiman said."We've learned that at least one individual can live for very long having the cause of Alzheimer's, and she's resistant to it," Arboleda-Velasquez said. "What this patient is teaching is there could be a pathway for correcting the disease."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft beamed back unprecedented data from interstellar space. It indicates a mysterious extra layer outside our solar system.

    NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft beamed back unprecedented data from interstellar space. It indicates a mysterious extra layer outside our solar system.Voyager 2 sent data about the edge of the solar system back to Earth. NASA scientists say it presents a new puzzle about what's beyond the heliopause.


  • NASA is ‘thrilled’ with pad abort test for Boeing’s Starliner space taxi despite parachute glitch

    NASA is ‘thrilled’ with pad abort test for Boeing’s Starliner space taxi despite parachute glitchBoeing cleared a key milestone for launching NASA astronauts on its CST-100 Starliner space taxi today by executing an end-to-end test of its rocket-powered launch abort system — a test that did what it needed to do even though one of the craft's three parachutes didn't open. Data from the pad abort test at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico will be fully analyzed in advance of an uncrewed Starliner mission to the International Space Station and back, currently scheduled for a Dec. 17 launch, Boeing and NASA said. “Tests like this one are crucial to… Read More


  • Cygnus cargo ship heads to space station with satellite built by students in Seattle

    Cygnus cargo ship heads to space station with satellite built by students in SeattleNorthrop Grumman launched a robotic Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station today, marking one giant leap for a small satellite built by students at the University of Washington and Seattle's Raisbeck Aviation High School. The 7-pound HuskySat-1 was among 8,200 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific payloads packed aboard the Cygnus for liftoff atop Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket at 9:59 a.m. ET (6:59 a.m. PT) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast. Hundreds of onlookers cheered as the rocket rose into sunny skies after a trouble-free countdown. "Good launch all the way around," launch conductor Adam… Read More


  • Happy Halloween from Hubble Telescope: Otherworldly ‘eyes’ glow in ghostly galaxy

    Happy Halloween from Hubble Telescope: Otherworldly ‘eyes’ glow in ghostly galaxyNow here's something really scary for Halloween: Imagine two galaxies slamming into each other and creating a monstrous wraith with ghostly glowing eyes. It's not that far of a stretch. The Hubble Space Telescope captured just such an image, for a team of astronomers based at the University of Washington. The visible-light picture, taken in June by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, shows a galactic smash-up that took place about 700 million light-years away in the constellation Microscopium. The cosmic collision is known as Arp-Madore 2026-424 or AM 2026-424, because it's noted that way in the Arp-Madore Catalogue of Southern… Read More


  • Scientists track the arms race that’s playing out between bacteria in your gut

    Scientists track the arms race that’s playing out between bacteria in your gutThe balance of bacteria in your gut can make the difference between sickness and health — and now scientists report that different species of bacteria share immunity genes to protect themselves against each other's toxins and maintain their balance of power. In effect, closely related species of bacteria acquire each other's defense systems to fend off threats from alien invaders. The findings appear in a paper published today in the journal Nature. The senior authors are Joseph Mougous, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine; and Elhanan Borenstein, a former UW Medicine geneticist who now works… Read More


  • Thousands of animals around the world are at risk of extinction. But not jellyfish — they're thriving in warm, polluted water.

    Thousands of animals around the world are at risk of extinction. But not jellyfish — they're thriving in warm, polluted water.Half a million of Earth's species may soon be vulnerable to extinction, according to the UN. Jellyfish, however, are proliferating in warmer waters.


  • Allen Institute maps out a high-resolution ‘org chart’ for connections in the brain

    Allen Institute maps out a high-resolution ‘org chart’ for connections in the brainResearchers at Seattle's Allen Institute say a new and improved map of the mouse brain reveals not only how different regions are connected, but how those connections are ordered in a hierarchical way. They add that the mapping techniques behind their study, which was published today by the journal Nature, could shed light on how diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or schizophrenia tangle up connections in the human brain. The map produced by the study is technically known as a medium-scale "connectome." It's been variously compared to a wiring diagram, organizational chart or subway map for the brain. An initial version… Read More


  • Far more people are threatened by rising seas than scientists realized, a study shows: 'The magnitude of the numbers speaks for itself'

    Far more people are threatened by rising seas than scientists realized, a study shows: 'The magnitude of the numbers speaks for itself'A new study suggests that far more people could experience the consequences of coastal flooding than earlier estimates suggested.


  • New TB Vaccine Could Save Millions of Lives, Study Suggests

    New TB Vaccine Could Save Millions of Lives, Study SuggestsIn what may be a watershed moment in the fight against tuberculosis, the world's most lethal infectious disease, an experimental new vaccine has protected about half the people who got it, scientists reported Tuesday.While a 50% success rate is hardly ideal -- the measles vaccine, by contrast, is about 98% protective -- about 10 million people get tuberculosis each year, and 1.6 million die of it. Even a partly effective vaccine may save millions of lives.A year ago, when preliminary trial results of the new vaccine were released, the World Health Organization called it "a major scientific breakthrough."Researchers not involved in the vaccine's development were enthusiastic about the latest results, but said it needed to be studied in more people and in different populations."The vaccine looks promising, and likely better than our century-old BCG vaccine," said Dr. Mario C. Raviglione, a global health expert at the University of Milan who headed the WHO's global tuberculosis program from 2003 to 2017.BCG, which is not used in the United States, protects infants against some types of tuberculosis, but does not protect adolescents or adults against the form that attacks the lungs, which is the most common type.Tuberculosis patients suffer fevers and night sweats, lose weight, cough up blood and, if left treated, ultimately die. Five years ago, tuberculosis surpassed AIDS as the deadliest infectious disease worldwide.The new vaccine, made by GSK and now known as M72/AS01E, was tested in about 3,300 adults in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia. All of them already had latent tuberculosis -- a silent infection that might or might not progress to active tuberculosis.Of those who got two doses of the GSK vaccine, only 13 developed active tuberculosis during three years of follow-up, according to the new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. By contrast, 26 of those who got a placebo progressed to active tuberculosis.Dr. Nazir Ismail, chief of tuberculosis research at South Africa's National Institute of Communicable Diseases, called the vaccine's 50% effectiveness "reasonably good."Giving two shots one month apart, he pointed out, is simpler than current prevention practice, which requires that patients take protective antibiotics every day for a month.Also, using antibiotics for prevention increases the risk that antibiotic-resistant TB will appear, while a vaccine does not.Because so many people die of tuberculosis, Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that buys vaccines for poor countries, said his agency would "certainly give the vaccine a hard look."Gavi already supports some vaccines that are only partly effective, he noted. For example, some vaccines for human papillomavirus, or HPV, stop only 70% of the strains of the cancer-causing virus, and a new malaria vaccine being field-tested in Africa is only 39% effective.An important question raised by the study, researchers said, is who should receive the vaccine.Tuberculosis rates vary enormously not just between countries, but even from neighborhood to neighborhood. The disease thrives in people who live in crowded conditions, inhaling one another's germs, and the bacterium dies quickly in sunlight.Tuberculosis can be transmitted even through something as simple as a cough on a crowded bus. But the people at the highest risk include family members of patients with active tuberculosis, the doctors and nurses caring for them and, in countries where tuberculosis is common, people living or working in crowded conditions, such as prisoners and miners.But in any country, people are also at risk of infection if they have HIV, are severely malnourished, are taking immune-suppressive cancer chemotherapy or organ-transplant drugs, have diabetes or are on dialysis.The new study, however, tested the vaccine only in people who were HIV-negative and whose blood tests showed they had latent tuberculosis.But at least a quarter of the world's population would come up positive for latent tuberculosis on a blood or skin test. The result means only that they have been exposed to tuberculosis germs some time in the past."We have no idea if they have been infected last month or 20 years ago," Raviglione said. Those infected long ago may have already have cleared their bodies of the infection.Most people who are ever going to develop active tuberculosis do so within two years of their first infection. Therefore, some prominent researchers argue that latency tests greatly exaggerate the number of people at risk.As a result, relying on them would cause many more people to be vaccinated than could benefit.Dr. Lalita Ramakrishnan, a tuberculosis expert at the University of Cambridge in Britain, noted that participants in the vaccine study were less likely to develop active tuberculosis in the first year than in the second.That result -- the opposite of what would normally be expected, she said -- implied that the careful screening done by the GSK team for the clinical trial, which included taking medical histories and sputum samples, must have weeded out people with early-stage tuberculosis.To pick people who would benefit most from the vaccine under normal circumstances, she argued, a more accurate diagnostic test must be developed.Alternatively, the vaccine could be restricted to people at obvious high risk, such as nurses in tuberculosis wards -- but that would miss too many potential beneficiaries.In the future, experts said, the GSK vaccine should be tested on people with HIV and on people in other countries, because susceptibility to tuberculosis appears to vary widely.The authors agreed, saying, "These results need confirmation in larger and longer studies conducted in a broader range of populations."Those groups should include people who did not test positive for latent tuberculosis, and people of varying ages and races.It is not known whether genetic differences make some people more susceptible to tuberculosis, or whether the bacteria circulating in various countries vary in infectiousness.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • First Mode joins Arizona State’s team to flesh out a plan for a marathon moon rover

    First Mode joins Arizona State’s team to flesh out a plan for a marathon moon roverSeattle-based First Mode is working with Arizona State University and other partners to draw up a concept for a rover that could travel more than 1,100 miles across the moon's surface over a four-year period. NASA is funding the concept study, which is due next June. The rover, dubbed Intrepid, would travel farther than any previous rover in NASA's history to check out more than 100 sites for signs of lunar water ice.  Intrepid would also map radiation, solar wind and the chemical makeup of lunar soil. The mission's proposed landing site is in the region of the moon's Reiner… Read More


  • Every person alive today descended from a woman who lived in modern-day Botswana about 200,000 years ago, a new study finds

    Every person alive today descended from a woman who lived in modern-day Botswana about 200,000 years ago, a new study findsModern humans emerged in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Now, a research team has figured out where on the continent our ancestors originated.


  • Lessons from 15-year rover mission: Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids

    Lessons from 15-year rover mission: Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kidsSTATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For 15 years, planetary scientist Steve Squyres' life revolved around Mars, with good reason. He was the principal investigator for one of the longest-running NASA missions on the surface of another world, executed by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity. If anyone has a sense of the lay of the land on the Red Planet, it'd be Squyres. So what does he think of the idea of setting up permanent cities on Mars? "My take on this one is no, I don't think so," Squyres said here today at Penn State University during the ScienceWriters 2019… Read More


  • An engineer has devised a way to stop Arctic ice from melting by scattering millions of tiny glass beads to reflect sunlight away

    An engineer has devised a way to stop Arctic ice from melting by scattering millions of tiny glass beads to reflect sunlight awayThe Arctic is melting faster than ever. One nonprofit wants to blanket parts of glaciers in glass beads to reflect sunlight and slow the thaw.


  • The universe is expanding faster than scientists thought, a study confirms — a 'crisis in cosmology' that could require a 'new physics'

    The universe is expanding faster than scientists thought, a study confirms — a 'crisis in cosmology' that could require a 'new physics'NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and new mirror technology confirmed a mystery that could lead to a "new physics," one astrophysicist said.


  • A Forecast for a Warming World: Learn to Live With Fire

    A Forecast for a Warming World: Learn to Live With FireSAN FRANCISCO -- Facing down 600 wildfires in the past three days alone, emergency workers rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people in Southern California on Thursday as a state utility said one of its major transmission lines broke near the source of the out-of-control Kincade blaze in Northern California.The Kincade fire, the largest this week, tore through steep canyons in the wine country of northern Sonoma County, racing across 16,000 acres within hours of igniting. Wind gusts pushed the fire through forests like blowtorches, leaving firefighters with little opportunity to stop or slow down the walls of flames tromping across wild lands and across highways overnight.And north of Los Angeles, 50,000 people were evacuated as strong winds propelled fires into the canyons of Santa Clarita, threatening many homes.Aerial footage of the Kincade fire showed homes engulfed in flames propelled by high winds that could become even stronger in the coming days.But beyond the destruction, which appeared limited Thursday to several dozen buildings, hundreds of thousands of people were affected, both by the fires and a deliberate blackout meant to prevent them. Schools and businesses closed, and thousands of people evacuated their homes.All this is happening after three straight years of record-breaking fires that researchers say are likely to continue in a warming world and which raise an important question: How to live in an ecosystem that is primed to burn?"I think the perception is that we're supposed to control them. But in a lot of cases we cannot," said John Abatzoglou, an associate professor at the University of Idaho. "And that may allow us to think a little bit differently about how we live with fire. We call it wildfire for reason -- it's not domesticated fire."According to the National Climate Assessment, the government report that summarizes present and future effects of a warming climate on the United States, fire is a growing problem. Climate change will lead to more wildfires nationwide as hotter temperatures dry out plants, making them easier to ignite.The total area burned in a single year by wildfires in the United States has only exceeded 13,900 square miles -- an area larger than the country of Belgium -- four times since the middle of last century. All four times have happened this decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA."There is anger in the community," said Michael Gossman, the deputy county administrator of Sonoma County's office of recovery and resilience, in an interview this year. In 2017 his California county was devastated by the Sonoma Complex fires, which killed 24 and burned more than 170 square miles. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the conditions this week were analogous to those of 2017.Many residents in Northern California faced a twin threat on Thursday: fires, but also the deliberate power outages meant to mitigate the blazes. Both the Kincade fire and a small fire that ignited Thursday morning, the Spring fire, occurred in or near areas where the state utility, Pacific Gas & Electric had turned off the power.The fires "brought out some longer standing institutional issues around equity," Gossman said. Critics say electricity cutoffs disproportionately harm low income people who cannot afford solar and battery backup systems or gas based generators, as well as sick and disabled people who rely on electricity to run lifesaving medical equipment.Although winds in California were forecast to subside later on Thursday, officials warned that the extreme winds and dry conditions that create high risk for fires could return on Sunday. This is why government agencies are preparing themselves to deal with fires that are increasingly seen as inevitable.Prescribed burns, or planned fires, like one set last spring on Brawley Mountain in Georgia in southern Appalachia roughly 100 miles north of Atlanta, are often seen as part of the solution.The idea that fire could itself be used to help fight fire and restore ecosystems first gained institutional acceptance in the South. In 1958 a policy change was made to allow for the first prescribed burn in a national park, at Everglades National Park in Florida.For some time, the practice remained anomalous outside of the South. But within the south, according to Nathan Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, even private landowners would occasionally set smaller, controlled fires on their property.Before the era of fire suppression, north Georgia around Brawley Mountain used to burn roughly every three to five years, according to Klaus. Those blazes allowed species that could withstand some fire, like the longleaf pine, to proliferate and flourish, shaping local ecosystems.Some of those fires were caused by natural events like lightning; others were caused by human activity. The Forest Service notes that Native Americans used prescribed burns to help with food production. These smaller fires act as a kind of incendiary rake, clearing out grasses, shrubs and other plant matter before they can overgrow to become fuel for bigger, more extreme fires.Dave Martin, who oversees fire and aviation management in the Forest Service's Southern Region, said that a prescribed burn costs about $30 to $35 an acre -- versus spending about $1,000 an acre for putting out a fire. "The cost of suppressing a fire is more than a prescribed burn," he said.It was a combination of forest overgrowth and drought conditions that helped fuel Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains Fires in 2016, which killed at least 14 people. Several fires burned across eight southeastern states that year, the same year Kansas experienced the largest wildfire in its history. The Anderson Creek prairie fire, which also affected Oklahoma, blackened some 625 square miles.The 2016 wildfires also allowed researchers to compare fire intensity between areas that had undergone a prescribed burn and those that had not. The fires in areas that had undergone prescribed were less intense. "It went from a 20- to 30-foot breaking front," Klaus said in reference to the height of the leading edge of the blaze on wild lands that had not burned, "to two to three feet."Reintroducing fire to the land is more complex than lighting a match. You can't burn where people live, for example. But nationwide, housing near wild lands is the fastest growing land-use type in the United States. More people are moving into areas that are more likely to burn, and in some cases they may oppose prescribed burning."Part of doing this work means educating local communities," said Mike Brod, the fire and natural-resources staff officer of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.And there are limits to prescribed burning. If conditions are too wet, a fire will not ignite, but if it is too dry, the fire is hard to contain. Like Goldilocks, for wild land managers the conditions have to be just right. This includes not just the wind's speed, which can affect the spread of a fire, but also its direction.And once the burn starts, its smoke can travel great distances. Smoke from last year's California's wildfires not only threw a haze over much of the state, but transformed sunsets as far away as Washington, D.C. On Thursday, NOAA warned residents of the Bay Area that "shifting winds tomorrow will likely cause the smoke to be directly over much of the region," as a result of the Kincade fire.So during planned burns great pains have to be taken to make sure that the smoke is directed away from population centers. "If the smoke isn't doing what we want it to do, we'll shut it down," said Nick Peters, the acting district fire management officer for the Chattooga River ranger district in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.The particulates in wildfire smoke are similar to the kind of pollution that gets released from burning gasoline or coal. Called PM 2.5, the tiny particles are associated with negative health effects. Out west, the rise of giant wildfires has worsened air pollution enough to erode some of the air-quality gains from the Clean Air Act.Earlier this year NOAA and NASA launched a mission to learn more about wildfire smoke. The program flew planes into Western wildfires and Midwestern agricultural fires throughout the summer and into the fall.A lot of wildfire and climate research is divided into two camps: observational modelers (who run large computer simulations) and researchers (who gather observational data using sophisticated monitors) said Rajan Chakrabarty, an assistant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. The goal of the mission was to bridge that gap.But flying into a fire is not for the weak bellied. As the plane flies through a blaze, the cabin fills with the smell of smoke evocative of a barbecue or a campfire. And sampling a fire plume often involves the kind of rollicking, stomach churning turbulence that commercial flights go out of their way to avoid.By taking samples during an active fire, scientists hope to understand what is in the smoke, and how the chemical makeup changes over time."This air is getting blown downwind, so it's going to impact areas outside of just where the fire was burning," said Hannah Halliday, a researcher at NASA Langley, who also participated in the mission. "And we have models for how emissions change, but we want to make sure that we have that chemistry right, and the physics right."The hope is that, over the long term, the smoke models will be as sophisticated as weather models, and can let people know well in advance when they will need to prepare for smoke, even if they are relatively far from the site of a fire.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • NASA will send VIPER rover to the moon in 2022 to track down south pole’s water ice

    NASA will send VIPER rover to the moon in 2022 to track down south pole’s water iceNASA says it'll send a rover to the moon's south pole by the end of 2022 to answer one of the biggest questions surrounding its Artemis moon program: Just how accessible is the water ice that's mixed in with moon dirt? The mobile robot — whose race car name, VIPER, is actually an acronym standing for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover — would be the first U.S. rover launched to the lunar surface since the moon buggies that went with the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions in 1971 and 1972. "VIPER is going to rove on the south pole… Read More


  • Amazon Web Services and NASA team up to stream video from space via the cloud

    Amazon Web Services and NASA team up to stream video from space via the cloudAmazon Web Services and NASA have demonstrated how cloud-based video processing can distribute live streams from space, with a shout-out from the International Space Station. The demonstration took center stage today in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, or SMPTE. Barbara Lange, SMPTE's executive director, told GeekWire that the members of her organization have a professional and personal interest in telling the story of space travel through moving images. Previously: Amazon Web Services plays role in NASA’s first ultra-HD live video from space "We want to make sure that that story… Read More


  • Why Saving the Oceans Is as Vital as Protecting Rain Forests

    Why Saving the Oceans Is as Vital as Protecting Rain ForestsSaving the oceans is key to fighting the climate crisis, according to Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a Brooklyn-born marine biologist and activist who is a rising figure in the climate movement.Johnson, 39, is the founder of Ocean Collectiv, a conservation consultancy, and of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank, and speaks frequently at TED Talks, climate rallies and her salons at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. Protecting the ocean is crucial for people at all economic levels, she said, not just bicoastal elites who look down their noses at plastic straws.Q: You have talked a lot about how the oceans are crucial in the fight against climate change. How so?A: When people talk about the destruction of the Amazon, and how forests in general are the lungs of the planet, I always want to jump in and say the ocean is a huge part of that, too.Phytoplankton -- these tiny little plants in the ocean -- produce a huge percentage of the oxygen we breathe, and the population of phytoplankton is declining. That should be a cause for concern for every single person.Q: You hear a lot of talk about plastic straws. Is that issue really a big deal or is it greenwashing?A: Straws are not the biggest problem facing the ocean, but they are an opportunity to think about what else we can do to reduce our impact on the planet.It really cracked me up the other day. I was walking down the street in Fort Greene, the neighborhood where I grew up and where I live now, and I saw this guy looking super-stylish carrying an iced coffee in a plastic to-go coffee cup with a plastic lid, and I turned to look, and he's got a metal straw in the cup.Part of me wanted to just hit it out of his hand and be like, "Dude, you're totally missing the point! If you're going to bring a straw, just bring your own cup!"Q: Some of those straws, I guess, can end up in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Are there any steps we can take to tackle that?A: I kind of recoil at this question, to be honest, because I feel like this has been done a million times: carry your own water bottle, carry your own grocery bags. But I think there is a harder answer, which is that it does actually require some sacrifice.Like I'll be walking down the street and I want to get a Juice Press because I'm hungry and I didn't bring enough snacks for the day, and I don't. There is an element of: "Don't buy the thing that's in plastic."There's no cute answer, right? Nothing that is disposable can be sustainable.Q: The United Nations says that 93% of commercial fish stocks are being fished at or beyond capacity. What kind of fish should we avoid eating?A: Pending changes which could come at any moment, the U.S. still does a very good job of managing our fish population. So eat U.S. seafood and support your fishermen who are doing it right.And eat lower on the food chain. Instead of tuna, eat sardines and anchovies -- those little ones that are reproducing super-quickly. Because tuna is so far up the food chain, if we were eating the land equivalent of tuna, it would be like eating whatever kind of dragon eats a lion. It's this incredible beast, and we will never be able to have sustainable tuna fishing at scale.Q: Is farmed seafood preferable to wild?A: The sustainability of fish farming is improving, but farmed fish are still often grown in high densities, and so there's a lot of spread of disease and pollution.But ocean farming of shellfish -- oysters, mussels and clams -- and seaweed is super-sustainable, and we should all be eating more of those things because they actually just live off of nutrients in the water and sunlight.In fact, eating shellfish like oysters can be more sustainable than being totally vegan, because it's just such an efficient and low-carbon way to make protein. Shellfish are absorbing carbon as they're making their shells. And seaweed is absorbing tons of CO2, because they're plants.Q: Some people think ocean conservation is an elitist issue for people with beach houses. Why does it matter for people across the economic spectrum?A: It's no coincidence which communities bear the brunt of sea level rise, pollution and strengthened storms. Along the coasts, it's poor communities and communities of color who are most at risk. It's those who already have the fewest resources who are most in danger, not people with vacation homes and yachts. Ocean conservation is a social justice issue.Q: Climate change deniers like to paint conservation as a pet cause for limousine liberals.A: It's so easy to think about the typical environmentalist as this stereotype of a fit white guy stepping out of a Prius, looking out into the mountains wearing a Patagonia jacket. But I've looked into the polling data, and that's completely false.It's young people, and it's people of color, and it's women who disproportionately care about environmental and climate issues, and are most supportive of stronger government policies to address them: 68% of people of color say they are worried about the impacts of climate change, compared to 55% of white people.Q: Do you see the green movement forging stronger ties to the social justice movement?A: I mean, Black Lives Matter has a part of their platform that's about climate and the environment, because it is a justice issue. If you think about the rates of asthma in inner-city communities that are near power plants or exposed to other types of pollution, it's a lot higher.And when we think about immigration, and how a lot of migration is now driven by climate change, whether it's droughts and crop failures or the impacts of storms, that becomes a social justice issue that was triggered by the impacts on communities that did the least to emit the carbon to cause the problem.Q: That's a lot of bad news to take in. What's the biggest reason for hope?A: Nature is super-resilient if we give it a chance, right? If we stop polluting the ocean, it will be less polluted. If we stop overfishing, in most cases, fish populations will recover.The ocean has already absorbed about 30% of the excess CO2 that we've trapped by burning fossil fuels. And the ocean has already absorbed 93% of the heat that we've trapped. And so the ocean is trying its best to buffer us from our worst, right? We need to return the favor.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • Suborbital spacefliers will get pinned by the Association of Space Explorers

    Suborbital spacefliers will get pinned by the Association of Space ExplorersWASHINGTON, D.C. — Will the customers who fly on the suborbital spaceships operated by British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin get astronaut wings? That's not in the cards, because those wings are typically reserved for flight crews. But at least they'll get a lapel pin to mark their achievement. The pin, created by the Association of Space Explorers, made its debut today on the lapel of Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic. She was pinned here at the International Astronautical Congress by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the association's president. Moses… Read More


  • The Loudest Bird in the World Has a Song Like a Pile Driver

    The Loudest Bird in the World Has a Song Like a Pile DriverThe pressures of sexual selection have made peacocks gorgeous, wood thrushes sonorous and birds of paradise great dancers. At first glance, the white bellbird doesn't appear to have benefited similarly. Barrel-chested and big-mouthed, with a long wattle dangling from the top of its beak, this rainforest bird looks more like a Muppet than an avian Casanova.But everyone's got their thing. According to a paper published Monday in Current Biology, this goofball boasts the loudest birdsong ever recorded. And he must be proud of it, because he sings the most piercing note right into potential mates' faces.The white bellbird -- one of four bellbird species in South and Central America -- is a favorite among birders in Brazil. It has a "strange, metallic, kind of alien call," said Caio Brito, one of the founders of Brazil Birding Experts. When several sing at once, they are "deafening," and sound like "several blacksmiths trying to compete," said Arthur Gomes, a biology student at Sao Paulo State University who contributed to the new research.Mario Cohn-Haft, the curator of birds at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Brazil and one of the authors of the study, regularly travels to understudied rainforest areas to survey birds and other species. On a 2017 trip to the Serra do Apiau, a peak in north Brazil, he encountered bellbirds, which tend to live at high altitudes. They are "the soundtrack of the mountain," he said. "You can hear them from a mile away."While examining a bellbird specimen during that trip, Cohn-Haft was struck by the thickness of its abdominal wall. It had "this really ripped, washboard stomach," he said. He thought it might have something to do with the loudness of their song -- "if they didn't have that kind of protection," he said, perhaps "their guts would blow out."He sent photos to Jeffrey Podos, a professor specializing in bioacoustics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who was similarly intrigued. A year later, the two led a team that further studied the bird.Until a few years ago, assessing the amplitude, or loudness, of birdsong required an unusual amount of devotion and tech-savvy. Only a couple of dozen species have been properly measured, said Podos.But new tools are making the pursuit much easier. For their expedition in 2018, Podos and Cohn-Haft brought sound level meters more commonly used for industrial-noise monitoring, along with laser range-finders to pinpoint how far away the birds were.At the top of the mountain, they measured two vocalizations made by the white bellbird: a longer, more elaborate song, and a shorter, more intense one.The white bellbird's second song type is louder than a jackhammer, and approaches, "at its peak, the amplitude of a pile driver" -- around 125 decibels, said Podos. That makes it three times more intense than the call of the screaming piha, the previous record-holder for loudness.The researchers also discovered a trade-off between song length and amplitude -- the more intense the song's peak, the less time it lasted. "If sexual selection keeps pushing the song to be louder and louder, it's going to become shorter and shorter," said Podos.This, along with the song's simplicity, is in keeping with "a pattern of evolutionary trade-offs between sound amplitude and song complexity," said Gonçalo Cardoso, a researcher at the University of Porto who was not involved in this study.One big mystery remains. The white bellbird sings its pile driver tune when a potential mate is nearby. It starts facing away from her, and then whips around to blast the loudest, record-setting note right into her face. This choreography puzzles experts: Many other birds, including the famously elaborate satin bowerbird, actually tone down their displays once a female expresses interest, so as not to startle her.The bellbird's strategy "goes against expectations," said Podos. "They just really seem to be socially awkward.""I am surprised that the loudest bird makes loud sounds when the female is so close," said Nicole Creanza, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who was not involved with the study. She said the findings went against her expectations, but called them "a great foundation for future research."Podos hopes to see whether such behavior actually helps male birds get mates."We never saw copulation -- we never saw what a really good male does," he said. "The ones we saw might have just been losers."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs acidified the ocean in a 'flash,' killing most marine life. The seas could see a similar problem a century from now.

    The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs acidified the ocean in a 'flash,' killing most marine life. The seas could see a similar problem a century from now.A new study found that the asteroid impact that led the dinosaurs to go extinct also caused rapid ocean acidification, which killed most sea life.


  • Jeff Bezos announces an all-star team for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander

    Jeff Bezos announces an all-star team for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar landerWASHINGTON, D.C. — Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture is heading up a team of top space companies — including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper — to build a landing system to take NASA astronauts to the moon as early as 2024. "This is a national team for a national priority," Bezos said here at the International Astronautical Congress, where he received the International Astronomical Federation's first Excellence in Industry Award on Blue Origin's behalf. Blue Origin would serve as the prime contractor for the lander project, with its Blue Moon lander serving as the… Read More


  • The Return of the 'Blob': Hawaii's Reefs Threatened by Marine Heat Wave

    The Return of the 'Blob': Hawaii's Reefs Threatened by Marine Heat WaveThe ocean off the Pacific Coast is simmering, threatening coral reefs and livelihoods around Hawaii and causing many to worry of worse to come."The ocean is very important to us," said Ka'imi Kaupiko, who lives in Milolii, a community often called the last Hawaiian fishing village, on the Big Island. The way of life there depends on the fish provided by the reefs, reefs which are now becoming sick in the warming waters."It affects a lot of how we are going to survive," Kaupiko said.Researchers said the heat wave was reminiscent of 2014, when a hot spot that became known as the blob began forming in the Pacific. It expanded and lingered over much of the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska for years.At First, Healthy CoralBoth marine heat waves are "super unusual," according to Andrew Leising, a research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nearly every other marine heat wave NOAA has recorded in 40 years of satellite monitoring shrinks in comparison."The event in '14-15 was maybe eight to 10 times the size of Alaska. And the current event we're having is nearly that big," Leising said. "And then, everything else is sort of an even further distant third or fourth."Researchers say they think that climate change strongly influenced the original blob's creation.The blob also led to the first known mass bleaching event in Hawaii, in which coral reefs stressed by the extreme temperatures shed the symbiotic plant that both gives them their flamboyant coloration and provides them with oxygen."Parts of Hawaii saw about 50% coral loss for the 2015 event," Jamison Gove, a research oceanographer with NOAA, said by email. "It was particularly devastating in areas off Hawaii Island and Maui." Reef watchers said they were worried about a repeat.After Bleaching, a Dire OutlookLast time, researchers were unprepared for the marine heat wave, said Greg Asner, director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University, who is based in Hawaii part of the year.This time, in addition to satellite observation and a network of sensors they deployed in July, researchers are using a community science project in which members of the public use a web platform to document any bleached coral that they see. It helps guide researchers' decisions about where to survey, given how sprawling the Hawaiian Islands are.Green on the platform's maps means no bleaching, yellow and orange mean some bleaching, and red means a lot of bleaching. "And if you asked me if you looked at that a month ago, it was just a few yellow dots," Asner said. "And then the orange dots started popping up. And now we have red dots."Then, the AlgaeEntire fisheries collapsed along the Pacific during the previous heat wave as high water temperatures upended the aquatic food web. According to some estimates, 100 million cod disappeared off the coast of southern Alaska.Warming waters can trigger the release of a neurotoxin called domoic acid from algae. Shellfish eat the algae, and when animals eat the shellfish they get sick and can die. Tens of thousands of dead seabirds washed up on beaches during the blob, as did sick and dying sea lions, most likely a result of domoic acid poisoning. In 2016, domoic acid also prompted officials to close the California Dungeness crab fishery.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


  • Switching from asteroid mining to blockchain: ConsenSys Space unveils TruSat satellite tracker

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