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- California unveils early warning earthquake app
The app, created by the University of California, Berkeley, and unveiled on the 30th anniversary of the deadly Loma Prieta quake, uses ground motion sensors located across the state to detect the start of earthquakes before humans can feel them. "Nothing can replace families having a plan for earthquakes and other emergencies," Governor Gavin Newsom said in unveiling the warning system.
- Space station's 2 women prep for 1st all-female spacewalk
Men have floated out the hatch on all 420 spacewalks conducted over the past half-century. NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will make "HERstory," as NASA is calling it, with the first all-female spacewalk. All four men aboard the International Space Station will remain inside, as Koch and Meir go out to replace a broken battery charger.
- Air pollution could be damaging your memory, finds new study
The researchers collected information on air quality for each district, including levels of both nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10), which are particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or smaller. Both are produced by burning fossil fuels from car and other vehicle exhausts, power plants and industrial emissions. The researchers say that although caution is always needed when interpreting a causal relationship, they describe the results as "concerning," and add that they are consistent with those produced by animal studies, although this is one of the first studies to confirm the results in humans.
- Queuing for eternity: Fossils show lining up is primal urge
Scientists say fossils found in Morocco suggest the practice of forming orderly lines may date back 480 million years and could have had evolutionary advantages. The researchers from France, Switzerland and Morocco analyzed the fossils and concluded that the tiny trilobites, which look similar to modern horseshoe crabs, probably intentionally formed a queue as they swarmed along the prehistoric sea floor. Jean Vannier, a researcher at the University of Lyon, France, who co-authored the study, said possible reasons for this group behavior include environmental stresses or reproduction.
- Watch the first all-female spacewalking team fix faulty power unit on space station
Friday's first all-female spacewalk is coming later than expected, and also earlier than expected. It's later, because the original plan for the first scheduled pairing of two spacewalking women had to be called off in March when NASA decided they couldn't get two medium-size spacesuit torsos ready on schedule. Instead, the spacewalk lineup was shuffled to have the women working alongside male crewmates. From a different perspective, the team-up of spacewalkers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir is coming nearly a week earlier than planned, due to an urgent problem on the International Space Station. The space station's crew is in… Read More
- Officials have confirmed 33 deaths and nearly 1,500 cases of serious lung disease tied to vaping. Here are all the health risks you should know about.
- SpaceX may want to launch 42,000 internet satellites — about 5 times more spacecraft than humanity has ever flown
- NASA's Hubble space telescope just took incredible photos of a visiting comet from another star system
- Virgin Galactic and Under Armour reveal spacewear clothing line for suborbital trips
It's a bit of a stretch to call them spacesuits, but the "spacewear" clothing line unveiled today by Virgin Galactic and Under Armour looks comfortable enough to wear even if you're not rocketing to the edge of space. The Under Armour clothing line — which includes a base layer, a spacesuit that's really a beefed-up flight suit, and zippered flight boots — made its debut at a New York runway show, and will get its space premiere during test flights for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. Next year, Virgin Galactic's customers are due to wear the custom-made space duds when… Read More
- NASA unveils spacesuits for moon missions, featuring red, white and blue
The fashion statement for NASA's future moonwalkers goes beyond basic white to add some flag-worthy touches of red and blue. But the color scheme for the "pumpkin suits" that astronauts wear during launches and landings is relatively unchanged, due to practical considerations. It turns out that the old orange, with a few blue accents added, is the new orange. Both suit designs had their debut today at NASA Headquarters as part of the buildup to the Artemis moon program, which is due to put the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface by as early as 2024.… Read More
- A new radar system will track 250,000 tiny pieces of space junk. It may help prevent snowballing collisions that could cut off our access to orbit.
- The Amelia Earhart Mystery Stays Down in the Deep
For two weeks in August, a multimillion-dollar search from air, land and sea sought to solve the 80-year mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance.Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer famous for locating the wreck of the Titanic, led a team that discovered two hats in the depths. It found debris from an old shipwreck. It even spotted a soda can. What it did not find was a single piece of the Lockheed Electra airplane flown in 1937 by Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, which vanished during their doomed voyage around the world.Ballard and his crew don't consider it a failure. For one thing, he says, they know where the plane isn't. And in the process, they may have dispensed with one clue that has driven years of speculation, while a team of collaborating archaeologists potentially turned up more hints at the aviator's fate."This plane exists," Ballard said. "It's not the Loch Ness monster, and it's going to be found."Ballard had avoided the Earhart mystery for decades, dismissing the search area as too large, until he was presented with a clue he found irresistible. Kurt Campbell, then a senior official in President Barack Obama's State Department, shared with him what is known as the Bevington image -- a photo taken by a British officer in 1940 at what is now known as Nikumaroro, an atoll in the Phoenix Islands in the Republic of Kiribati. American intelligence analysts had enhanced the image at Campbell's request and concluded a blurry object in it was consistent with landing gear from Earhart's plane.Motivated by this clue, and by 30 years of research on Nikumaroro by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, Ballard and his crew set a course for the island in August. They were joined by archaeologists from the National Geographic Society, which sponsored and documented the journey for "Expedition Amelia," which will air on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday.Ballard and Allison Fundis, the Nautilus' chief operating officer, coordinated an elaborate plan of attack. First, they sent the ship five times around the island to map it with multibeam sonar and deployed a floating autonomous surface vehicle to map shallower areas off the island's shore. They also used four aerial drones for additional inspections of the surrounding reef.Nikumaroro and its reef are just the tip of a 16,000-foot underwater mountain, a series of 13 sheer escarpments that drop off onto ramps, eventually fanning out at the base for 6 nautical miles.If Earhart crashed there, they believe, rising tides would have dragged her plane over the reef and down the escarpments. Fragments should have collected on the ramps, especially heavier components like the engine and the radio.In deeper water the team deployed the Hercules and the Argus, remotely operated vehicles equipped with spotlights and high-definition cameras. These robots descended 650 feet around the entire island and found nothing.At that point, the crew focused on the northwest corner of the island near the S.S. Norwich City, a British freighter that ran aground on the island in 1929, eight years before Earhart's disappearance. That is the area where the Bevington photo was taken.While they searched there, crew members found so many beach rocks consistent in size and shape with the supposed landing gear in the Bevington image that it became a joke on the ship."Oh look," Ballard would chuckle, "another landing gear rock."Fundis said, "We felt like if her plane was there, we would have found it pretty early in the expedition." But she said they kept up their morale because Ballard reminded them that it took four missions to find the Titanic and that one of those expeditions missed the ship by just under 500 feet.The crew mapped the mountain's underwater drainage patterns and searched the gullies that might have carried plane fragments down slope, to a depth of 8,500 feet. Crew members even searched roughly 4 nautical miles out to sea in case the plane lifted off the reef intact and glided underwater as it sank.Each time a new search tactic yielded nothing, Ballard said, he felt he was adding "nail after nail after nail" to the coffin of the Nikumaroro hypothesis.Still, Ballard and Fundis confess that other clues pointing to Nikumaroro have left them with lingering curiosity about whether Earhart crashed there. For instance, Panamerican Airway radio direction finders on Wake Island; Midway Atoll; and Honolulu, Hawaii; each picked up distress signals from Earhart and took bearings, which triangulated in the cluster of islands that includes Nikumaroro.For years, many Earhart historians have been skeptical of the Nikumaroro theory. And Ballard, Fundis and their team's return to the island will now depend on whether the archaeologists from the National Geographic Society came up with evidence that Earhart's body was there.Fredrik Hiebert, the society's archaeologist in residence, has some leads. His team awaits DNA analysis on soil samples taken at a bivouac shelter found on the island.The camp, known as the Seven Site for its shape, was first noticed by a British officer in 1940. Thirteen bones were gathered then and sent to a colonial doctor in Fiji, who determined they belonged to a European man. The bones were subsequently lost.Decades later, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, tracked down the doctor's analysis. Richard Jantz, director emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, determined that the bones most likely belonged to a woman and that Earhart's build was "more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample."Since the 1980s, Tighar has conducted 12 expeditions to Nikumaroro in an effort to find more skeletal remains. It turned up other items from a castaway's existence at the camp but never any bones or DNA.Hiebert's team is hoping to use new techniques to identify evidence of mitochondrial DNA with similarities to Earhart's living relatives in the 22 soil samples they collected.Before the expedition, Hiebert and Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist, visited the National Museum in Tarawa, Kiribati's capital. On an unmarked shelf, Kimmerle spotted remnants of a female skull. The team now awaits DNA analysis of the specimen.In 2021, the Nautilus will be in the South Pacific fulfilling a contract to map underwater U.S. territories. That will bring the ship to the area around Howland Island, Earhart's intended destination for refueling before her plane disappeared. Ballard and Fundis plan to make time to explore the alternate theory favored by some skeptics of the Nikumaroro hypothesis: that Earhart crashed at sea closer to Howland.Fundis considers Earhart a role model, which gives her the "fuel to keep going," she said.And Ballard explained his own motivation to continue the search."In many ways, I'm doing this for my mother," he said, describing her as a "brilliant woman" who grew up in Kansas, like Earhart, but dropped out of college to raise three children and care for her sister.His mother, Hariett Ballard, admired Earhart and hoped she might pave the way for her children, or perhaps grandchildren, to pursue adventurous careers. Robert Ballard's daughter, Emily Ballard, was among the crew of the Nautilus, hunting for Earhart's plane."I'm not giving up," he said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- Allen Institute kicks brain wave recording into overdrive with Neuropixels probe
Seattle's Allen Institute for Brain Science is sharing 70 trillion bytes' worth of data documenting electrical activity in mouse brains, collected by a new type of silicon probe that can monitor hundreds of neurons simultaneously. The Neuropixels system, developed by an international collaboration that includes the Allen Institute, could be adapted to record brain activity in human patients as well, said Josh Siegle, a senior scientist at the institute who works with the probes. "The application I'm most interested in is decoding the communication patterns of the brain, and really understanding how information is transmitted between regions," Siegle told GeekWire.… Read More
- Climate change researchers recommend banning all frequent flyer reward programs to cut carbon emissions by targeting jet-setters
- Who Would Firebomb a Homeless Encampment?
LOS ANGELES -- The incendiary device came shooting toward the homeless encampment without words or warning. Arthur Garza, 29, heard a pop against his tent, then saw the object, which he described as a "mortar" or "firecracker," bounce into the street and explode."It was like shooting stars everywhere," Garza said.In a matter of minutes, flames were climbing the incline of dirt and brush under the interchange of the 2 and 134 freeways in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. Stray embers jumped eight lanes of highway to ignite land in the adjoining city of Glendale.Garza and others in the encampment acted quickly, setting their water supply on the flames and raking brush to halt the fire's spread. They were aware and worried, Garza said, that the homeless might be blamed. Ultimately, some 300 firefighters and multiple water-dropping helicopters were deployed to hold back the blaze. A hundred homes were evacuated, though no structures were lost. Forty-five acres burned.Encampments like Garza's have become firm fixtures of LA's landscape as the homelessness crisis gets steadily worse. Now, with fire season underway, city officials are growing anxious about the uptick in blazes that start in makeshift communities. The city is technically barred from removing homeless people from public areas. But last month, the LA City Council passed a safety measure that allows for the arrest of homeless people who refuse to leave high-risk fire zones.The case of Eagle Rock, however, shows that the threat can also come from outside the camps.A Shocking ArrestSix days after the attack on Aug. 25, Daniel Michael Nogueira and Bryan Antonio Araujo-Cabrera, both 25 and of Los Angeles, were arrested on suspicion of sparking the fire. Nogueira was booked on a felony count, while Araujo-Cabrera was booked on a misdemeanor.It was a shock to the middle-class community of Eagle Rock. Nogueira is the son of Michael Nogueira, the president of the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce and a big booster of the local farmers' market and Concerts in the Park series. The elder Nogueira is known around town as "Sir Michael," the name of his party-rental business, and his family home, surrounded by a white-picket fence, has been well known for its elaborate decorations each Halloween and for hosting rollicking gatherings on boxing match nights.Announcing the arrests in a sternly worded release, the Los Angeles Fire Department said investigators used "burn patterns, witness statements and surveillance videos" to identify its suspects. The department "determined the fire was an intentional act" and said the homeless were the targets. No motive was mentioned.The job of the LAFD's arson investigators is even more challenging in a climate-changing California: the threat of devastating fires has essentially gone year-round. The unit was founded as the Arson Squad in 1918, and a century later, is known as the Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section, an evolution that officials said has become necessary to confronting threats in a world beset with climate change and terrorism. In the fall and early winter, the danger becomes more potent. The dry Santa Ana winds scream across the basins, and the sun seems to burn meaner, capable of igniting dried-out growth at the slightest provocation.In this case, firefighters stayed at the burn zone for two days to make sure it was completely extinguished. "We remember the Oakland Hills fire, which killed 25 people," said Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, referring to the 1991 Bay Area firestorm that started after embers from a fire put down a day before reignited in heavy winds.The day after his arrest, the younger Nogueira posted $1 million bail. Araujo-Cabrera was released on Sept. 14. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has not formally charged either with any crimes. A spokesman for that office said the DA is requesting further evidence. The Nogueira family declined to comment.One of the arson investigators, LAFD Capt. Tim Halloran, said he could not discuss details about the incident, citing the ongoing inquiry, but made it clear that the department will keep pursuing charges."Obviously it's our desire to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice," Halloran said.A Citywide CrisisThere have been several notable homeless-related fires over the past few years. In December 2017, a cooking fire at a homeless encampment in a ravine off the 405 sparked the Skirball Fire, burning 422 acres and six Bel Air homes.This summer, homeless-encampment-related fires also sprung up in Pacoima, where an abandoned house taken over by squatters burned for a second time; in South Los Angeles, where an encampment in an alley burned, badly damaging a house; and in the Sepulveda Basin, where about 100 people were living, some for many years.The uptick, generally, is undeniable. Humphrey, of the LAFD, said, "In the number of fires related to homeless encampments, in which the homeless are present -- whether they are the cause is not certain -- the answer is yes, we are seeing an increasing trend."But in three fires in September alone, all of which left unhoused people dead or seriously injured -- in Van Nuys, Glendale, and in South LA -- arson is suspected. In late August, an unhoused musician in downtown LA's Skid Row was targeted in an arson attack and died days later. And the Los Angeles Police Department is currently investigating a case, in Echo Park, in which an explosive device was thrown at a homeless encampment on Oct. 6.The Rev. Andy Bales, one of the most respected homeless advocates in Skid Row, and chief of the Union Rescue Mission, said the rise in attacks on homeless Angelenos is inexcusable, but sees it as a raw reflection of the dissatisfaction with official efforts to alleviate the crisis. Every night, despite billions of taxpayer dollars poured onto the problem, nearly 59,000 people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County. The countywide homeless count rose 12% over the past year."Unfortunately, some folks that have twisted thinking are getting so angry about the situation," Bales said. "This has become absolutely a growing concern, fanatical vigilantism."Bales said he supervises a Facebook page related to homelessness concerns, "and more and more people are calling for others to arm themselves, saying things like, 'Round them all up like cattle, and ship them either to Mexico or the desert.'""I can't tell you how many posts I have to delete," he said.Makeshift habitations are everywhere -- set up under or near freeways, in ravines or canyons and creek beds, and on public land away from view. Eventually, some encampments are pushed onto the sidewalks, where a cat-and-mouse ritual ensues with sanitation workers.One of the persistent myths about the homeless is that they are largely from out of town, a sort of foreign invasion. Yet, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count finds that roughly two-thirds of unsheltered adults have lived in LA County 10 years or more.And the difference between those on the street and those in permanent dwellings can be a matter of degrees. For example, as it happens, the younger Nogueira was arrested for attacking an encampment that houses a former neighbor. Arthur Garza's last home address was three houses down from the place where the Nogueiras live now, on Eagle Rock's tony Hill Drive.Back Under the FreewayGarza is back in the place he currently calls home, under beams holding up sheets of vinyl tarp, strung up along tents and umbrellas. The freeway traffic overhead creates an unending droning noise.Living on the streets, homeless people in LA often fall victim to sexual assault, mental illness or drug addiction. Garza has faced multiple arrests since becoming homeless, county jail records show. Some were related to narcotics, he said. "I basically never had any police contact until I started living on the street."He was kicked out of his last formal address by relatives in 2014, he said, in what he described as a dispute over an inheritance. (Repeated attempts to contact Garza's relatives at his old Hill Drive address were unsuccessful.) He has been living on the streets ever since.These days, Garza works part-time for a small upholstery tools manufacturer, just a few doors away from where he sleeps. Jerry Preusser, the shop owner, spoke effusively about his employee's work ethic, and he said that he's tried to offer Garza a room in his home."I've helped him a lot and he's done a lot to change," Preusser said. But habits, he added, are hard to break, and the cycle of homelessness itself becomes an anchor: "You don't imagine your life out of that."Although they once lived on the same block, Garza said he and Nogueira didn't know each other growing up. But he's long been aware of the Nogueira family. When he heard that Daniel Nogueira was arrested, Garza recalled saying, "That's Sir Michael's son."Garza said his conditions overall have not changed. Drivers routinely throw trash at him or honk aggressively. LA sanitation sweepers come by, threatening to haul off his property if he doesn't move it. Garza carts his stuff to other locations, and then back. He zips around Eagle Rock on an electric longboard, and keeps two guinea pigs as pets."I'm not complaining about being homeless," Garza said. "The winters are cold, the summers are hot, constant noise. That's why we were back up there, because it's quieter," he said, pointing to a cluster of trees and bushes set against the side of the freeway.Now a fence blocks his path. "Right here," he said, "everything echoes."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- Airline Food Waste Is a Problem. Can Banana Leaves Be Part of the Solution?
From disposable headphones and plastic cutlery to food scraps and toilet waste, the average airline passenger leaves behind over 3 pounds of garbage, according to one estimate. To get travelers and airlines thinking -- and talking -- about that rather large pile of trash, a British design firm has refashioned the economy meal tray, replacing plastic with renewable materials such as coffee grounds, banana leaves and coconut wood.Jo Rowan is the associate strategy director of the firm, PriestmanGoode, which has spent more than two decades applying design thinking to the air travel experience, including airport lounges and cabin seating.Now, she said, the firm is turning its attention to the less "glamorous" side of things."Onboard waste is a big issue," she said. "Knowing that you have 4 billion passengers per year, it all adds up very quickly."The redesigned items are featured in an exhibit, "Get Onboard: Reduce.Reuse.Rethink," that opened last month at the Design Museum in London.By far the biggest environmental issue with air travel -- and the reason 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg opted to sail to New York from Europe in August, rather than fly -- is the associated carbon emissions, which are growing at a faster rate than predicted in previous, already dire projections.But as air travel becomes increasingly accessible, and as more people take to the skies, airlines have been making public pledges to curb their environmental footprints, including the plastic forks and leftovers their passengers leave behind.How much trash are we talking about?Because there is no central authority tracking statistics about the amount of waste produced on flights, accurate and recent figures are hard to come by. But the International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing about 300 airlines, conducted a small study at Heathrow Airport in London and estimated that airlines generated about 6.7 million tons of cabin waste last year.As low-cost airlines proliferate, and as the tourism industry continues to court middle-class customers, that number could double in the next decade."It's a relatively limited sample at this stage," Chris Goater, a spokesman for the trade association, said.Pere Fullana i Palmer, director of the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change, a research group based in Barcelona, Spain, has taken an even deeper dive into the issue of airline trash."You cannot improve a system if you don't know it," he said.Fullana i Palmer's research group teamed up with Iberia Airlines, Gate Gourmet, Ferrovial and Ecoembes to analyze approximately 8,400 pounds of garbage on 145 flights into Madrid. The group found that 33% was food waste, 28% was cardboard and paper waste, and about 12% was plastic.How can this be fixed?As consumers become increasingly conscious of the outsize environmental impact of air travel, airlines are under growing pressure to take action.Alaska Airlines, Ryanair and British Airways have made public declarations to reduce waste, and Air France said it would eliminate 210 million single-use plastic items like cups and stirring sticks by the end of this year.On one Qantas flight in May, which the company called "the first-ever commercial flight to produce no landfill waste," the airline removed individually packaged servings of milk and Vegemite, and served meals in containers made from sugar cane, with utensils made of crop starch.A month later, on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles, United Airlines served meals using "fully recyclable or compostable serviceware."But replicating such innovations on a meaningful scale will be tricky. Regular flights are not equipped with the necessary facilities or systems for attendants to manage recycled goods, according to Megan Epler Wood, the author of "Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet" and the director of Harvard's International Sustainable Tourism Initiative. (On a recent trip, Wood said, she saw a flight attendant separating recyclables with her bare hands.)The solution, she said, would require collaboration among airlines, local authorities and airports, which are ultimately responsible for handling and hauling trash.IATA, the airline trade association, said the rules governing international catering waste -- which involve a complex set of international and country-specific regulations meant to prevent the spread of disease -- should be reconsidered to increase recycling rates.While all cabin waste is subject to the regulations of the country in which the plane lands, some European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, have imposed additional measures to protect agriculture. This means that even untouched food and drink, which, according to IATA estimates, makes up about 20% of total airline waste, ends up in landfills or is incinerated.The regulations governing single-use plastic, which will be banned in the European Union by 2021, also present challenges, according to the trade association."We've developed a lot of guidance to airlines to deal with the issue of cabin waste," Michael Gill, IATA's director of aviation environment, said. "But airlines cannot solve the issue on their own.""Its vital regulators understand the full impacts," he continued, "including increased energy and water use, as well as CO₂ emissions that result from heavier materials carried on board."Fullana i Palmer agreed that legislation permitting more materials to be recycled or turned into biogas was needed but said that change was possible."I am optimistic because there is a big push for saving our planet," he said. "The tsunami is so strong that all sectors will have to adapt."The airline meal, reimaginedIn designing the onboard items, PriestmanGoode was conscious of heft because the more weight on an aircraft, the higher the fuel emissions. The tray is made of coffee grounds and husks (also a coffee byproduct). The dishes are made of pressed wheat bran, and a single spork made of coconut palm wood, a waste product that farmers would otherwise burn, replaces plastic cutlery."If you picked it up, you wouldn't know it wasn't plastic," Rowan said. "Part of what we were trying to do was actually look at how we could make this a desirable product, as well as being sustainable."The team also played with lids of dishes, which are typically made of transparent plastic, to signify what's inside: a pressed banana leaf for salads and side dishes, an edible waffle cone for dessert.The goal, Rowan said, is "getting people to think about the way that they travel and also getting airlines and the service providers to think about what they offer."Rowan said airlines and suppliers had shown interest in the products, which, for now, are available only at the museum through February."We're moving this on to the next level of development," she said, to "get some of these things to fly."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- NASA confirms Boeing’s latest timetable for Starliner space taxi’s final tests
NASA confirmed today that Boeing is scheduled to conduct the next high-profile test of its CST-100 Starliner space capsule in a little more than three weeks. The target data for Starliner's pad abort test is set for Nov. 4 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, NASA said. That's in line with the plan that Boeing executive John Mulholland laid out earlier this week at a New Mexico space symposium. If next month's test is successful, Boeing would target Dec. 17 for the launch of an uncrewed Starliner to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station… Read More
- Stratolaunch air-launch venture says it’s been transferred to new owners by Paul Allen’s Vulcan
Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen in 2011 to build a flying launch pad for rockets, says it's under new ownership. The transition serves as the latest sign that Jody Allen — Paul Allen's sister, who took control of his Vulcan Inc. holding company as the trustee and executor of his estate — is paring back and refocusing his many enterprises. Earlier this week, word spread that Vulcan was trimming a significant number of jobs. Stratolaunch reported the ownership handover today on Twitter and its website, without saying who the new owner is.… Read More
- NASA’s chief and SpaceX’s Elon Musk mend fences – and give ‘best guess’ for Crew Dragon’s big flight
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX's headquarters in California today, for what was seen as an opportunity to smooth over differences and update expectations for SpaceX's first-ever crewed spaceflight. Over the past few years, the first flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts aboard has been repeatedly rescheduled, leading to moments of frustration for Bridenstine. But after meeting with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and others at the company's facilities in Hawthorne, Calif., the NASA chief suggested the goal was in sight. "If everything goes according to plan, it will be in the first quarter… Read More
- A NASA image shows the center of our galaxy in unprecedented detail. Expect far more revealing photos from a soon-to-launch telescope.
- Scientists Designed a Drug for Just One Patient. Her Name Is Mila
A new drug, created to treat just one patient, has pushed the bounds of personalized medicine and has raised unexplored regulatory and ethical questions, scientists reported Wednesday.The drug, described in the New England Journal of Medicine, is believed to be the first "custom" treatment for a genetic disease. It is called milasen, named after the only patient who will ever take it: Mila (mee-lah) Makovec, who lives with her mother, Julia Vitarello, in Longmont, Colorado.Mila, 8, has a rapidly progressing neurological disorder that is fatal. Her symptoms started at age 3. Within a few years, she had gone from an agile, talkative child to one who was blind and unable to stand or hold up her head. She needed a feeding tube and experienced up to 30 seizures a day, each lasting one or two minutes.Vitarello learned in December 2016 that Mila had Batten's disease. But the girl's case was puzzling, doctors said. Batten's disease is recessive -- a patient must inherit two mutated versions of a gene, MFSD8, to develop the disease.Mila had just one mutated gene, and the other copy seemed normal. That should have been sufficient to prevent the disease.In March 2017, Dr. Timothy Yu and his colleagues at Boston Children's Hospital discovered that the problem with the intact gene lay in an extraneous bit of DNA that had scrambled the manufacturing of an important protein.That gave Yu an idea: Why not make a custom piece of RNA to block the effects of the extraneous DNA? Developing such a drug would be expensive, but there were no other options.Vitarello already had set up Mila's Miracle Foundation and was appealing for donations on GoFundMe. So, she began fundraising in earnest, eventually raising $3 million for a variety of research efforts.Yu's team oversaw development of the drug, tested it in rodents, and consulted with the Food and Drug Administration. In January 2018, the agency granted permission to give the drug to Mila. She got her first dose on Jan. 31, 2018.The drug was delivered through a spinal tap, so it could reach her brain. Within a month, Vitarello noticed a difference. Mila was having fewer seizures, and they were not lasting as long.With continued treatments, the number of seizures has diminished so much that the girl has between zero and six a day, and they last less than a minute.Mila rarely needs the feeding tube now, and is able once again to eat pureed foods. She cannot stand unassisted, but when she is held upright, her neck and back are straight, no longer slumped.Still, Mila has lost the last few words of her vocabulary and remains severely disabled."She is starting not to respond to things that made her laugh or smile," Vitarello said.Milasen is believed to be the first drug developed for a single patient (CAR-T cancer therapies, while individualized, are not drugs). But the path forward is not clear, Yu and his colleagues acknowledged.There are more than 7,000 rare diseases, and more than 90% have no FDA-approved treatment, according to Rachel Sher, vice president of regulatory and government affairs at the National Organization for Rare Disorders.Tens of thousands of patients could be in Mila's situation in the United States alone. But there are nowhere near enough researchers to make custom drugs for all who might want them.And even if there were, who would pay? Not the federal government, not drug companies and not insurers, said Dr. Steven Joffe, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania."Unfortunately, that leaves it to families," he added. "It feels awfully uncomfortable, but that is the reality."That means custom drugs would be an option only for the very wealthy, those with the skills to raise large sums of money, or those who gain the support of foundations.Mila's drug development was mostly paid for by the foundation run by her mother, but she and Yu declined to say how much was spent.The idea of custom drugs also leads the FDA into uncharted territory. In an editorial published with Yu's paper, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, raised tough questions:What type of evidence is needed before exposing a human to a new drug? Even in rapidly progressing, fatal illnesses, precipitating severe complications or death is not acceptable, so what is the minimum assurance of safety that is needed?She also asked how a custom drug's efficacy might be evaluated, and how regulators should weigh the urgency of the patient's situation and the number of patients who could ultimately be treated. None of those questions have an easy answer.Brad Margus, founder of the A-T Children's Project, said he was hoping Yu would develop another custom drug for a 2-year-old girl with A-T, or ataxia telangiectasia, an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes a variety of symptoms, including problems moving, a weakened immune system and slowed mental development. Margus' two sons have A-T.His foundation would pay for the work, although the drug would be suitable for only one child. But Margus wondered how generalizable the custom-drug approach would be for "patients whose parents or disease advocates haven't been lucky enough to capture a slice of Tim Yu's time."Milasen will not cure Mila, Vitarello acknowledged. But Mila was 7 when she got her first dose."What if the next Mila is treated when she is 4 or 5?" she asked. The development of milasen "is opening up an entirely new treatment path.""As a mom, I still feel hopeful," Vitarello added. "But I have one foot in hope and one foot in reality."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- A winner of this year's Nobel prize in physics is convinced we'll detect alien life in 100 years. Here are 13 reasons why we haven't made contact yet.
- As Sea Levels Rise, So Do Ghost Forests
Up and down the mid-Atlantic coast, sea levels are rising rapidly, creating stands of dead trees -- often bleached, sometimes blackened -- known as ghost forests.The water is gaining as much as 5 millimeters per year in some places, well above the global average of 3.1 millimeters, driven by profound environmental shifts that include climate change.Increasingly powerful storms, a consequence of a warming world, push seawater inland. More intense dry spells reduce freshwater flowing outward. Adding to the peril, in some places the land is naturally sinking.All of this allows seawater to claim new territory, killing trees from the roots up.Rising seas often conjure the threat to faraway, low-lying nations or island-states. But to understand the immediate consequences of some of the most rapid sea-level rise anywhere in the world, stand among the scraggly, dying pines of Dorchester County along the Maryland coast.Chesapeake Bay's Migrating MarshesPeople living on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, the country's largest estuary system, have a front-row view of the sea's rapid advance, said Keryn Gedan, a wetland ecologist at George Washington University.Part of the reason for the quickly rising waters may be that the Gulf Stream, which flows northward up the coast, is slowing down as meltwater from Greenland inhibits its flow. That is causing what some scientists describe as a pileup of water along the East Coast, elevating sea levels locally.The effects of climate change are also exacerbated by land that is sinking as a result of geological processes triggered by the end of the last ice age.Because of the extraordinary speed at which the water is rising here, Gedan said, "I think of this area as a window into the future for the rest of the world."In Dorchester County, where dead and dying loblolly pines stand forlornly, Gedan has learned to "read" these forests from the mix of species present.As saltwater moves into the ground, oak and other sensitive hardwoods die first. Loblolly pine, the most salt-tolerant, is often the last tree standing until it, too, is overwhelmed.Then the saltwater marsh plants move in. If you're lucky, velvety tufts of cordgrass sprout. If not, impenetrable stands of cane-like Phragmites, an invasive species, take over.One reason the effects of rising seas are so noticeable here is that the land has very little slope. Those 5 millimeters of sea level, a rise that's only slightly more than two half-dollar coins stacked, can translate into saltwater pushing 15 feet inland per year, according to Gedan.Shoots of sweet gum, a tree with star-shaped leaves and bark like alligator skin, have more tolerance for salt than other hardwoods, such as oak. They can endure for a time as groundwater becomes more saline.But eventually, the sweet gum dies as well.The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where Gedan does research, lost 3,000 acres of forest and agricultural land between 1938 and 2006. More than 5,000 acres of marsh became open water.At first, this trend depressed Matt Whitbeck, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who works at the refuge. Saltwater marshes are important nurseries for the fish and crabs people like to eat.But in 2012, he realized the marsh wasn't entirely disappearing; it was migrating. Some of the 3,000 acres of forest that the refuge had lost had transformed into saltwater marsh.His outlook changed. "We need to think about where the marsh is moving, not where it is," he said.But in nearby Smithville, a historically African American town, this movement poses an existential threat. Backyards have been gobbled up by advancing marsh, basketball courts overgrown. What were once thick stands of pine near the water's edge have greatly thinned. The marsh now menaces a graveyard.Residents have battled the advancing wetlands for years, said Roslyn Watts, 60, who grew up here. All that time, she and her neighbors thought the inexorable advance was simply the price of living near water's edge.But in 2010, she learned about global warming and sea level rise, she said. She understood that what was happening wasn't entirely natural."I was angry," she said, and particularly incensed by the idea that retreat was the only workable strategy. The Dutch didn't retreat, she said. They built dikes. Why couldn't Smithville?"These families have been here since at least the late 19th century," she said. "There's a connection to the land."But Smithville, small and with few resources, has little money to adapt.Further south in Somerset County, numerous "for sale" signs stand in front of houses along the back roads. Some are abandoned, their yards overgrown by Phragmites. On Deal Island, ditches once dug to drain the land for farming and to help manage flooding from high tides now stand full of stagnant water.Today, in fact, these ditches are part of the threat: Instead of draining water out to sea, they can accelerate the movement of saltwater inland, said Kate Tully, an agroecologist at the University of Maryland.In general, saltwater can seep into the soil before sea level rise becomes obvious in other ways, killing sensitive plants far from the shore. "We call it the invisible flood, because you can't really see it," she said.Elizabeth van Dolah, an anthropologist at the University of Maryland who works with rural communities along the eastern shore, noted that residents here are accustomed to marsh migration and flooding. "But they're probably seeing it happening at a much quicker pace than in the past," she said. "Many of them recognize that, yes, they eventually have to leave. But for the time being, they intend to stay in place."Bob Fitzgerald, 80, has farmed near the town Princess Anne his whole life. Driving the back roads in his four-seater pickup, he pointed out fields that, just five years ago, grew corn but have since become too salty for crops."You can't give property away down here," he said.The asphalt roads are occasionally tinted red along the edges. That, too, is an effect of the floodwater "overtopping" the roads, Fitzgerald said."People who have built their homes here are damn fools," he said, speaking near a place where pine trees appear to be dying around a house. "It should have been abandoned."As the years pass, he said, it will be.'Cedar Cemeteries' in New JerseyFor 33 years, Ken Able has walked the same causeway almost daily at the Rutgers University Marine Field Station in Tuckerton, New Jersey. In that time he has seen marsh become open water, and the fish population transform as cooler-water species decline and those that thrive in warmer waters move in.Blue crab and summer flounder, both saltwater species, have pushed into freshwater rivers. Their arrival suggests the waterways are becoming saltier further inland.All these signs of change come from the ocean, a fluid and often fickle environment. Which is why Able, a professor emeritus of marine and coastal sciences, so appreciates the ghost forests. They're a signal of change from a stationary source: the trees themselves."A ghost forest is a way to capture geological history," he said. "There's not always a way to do that."The Atlantic white cedar, abundant around the Mullica River Estuary in stands such as this one, is an unusually durable parchment on which to capture that history.Long prized for lumber, its wood is highly resistant to rot. But the tree is also very sensitive to salt. It can tolerate maybe three salty high tides before succumbing.So when the trees begin dying, it's a trustworthy indicator that conditions are becoming more saline. It is an age-old phenomenon, now happening faster.Erosion of marshes and riverbanks has also accelerated, revealing buried cedar stumps from prehistoric ghost forests. Jennifer Walker, a frequent collaborator with Able who recently earned her Ph.D. in oceanography at Rutgers, dated one stump here to the fifth century. "Cedar cemeteries," she calls these places.As elsewhere, ghost forest formation seems to have sped up recently, particularly after Hurricane Sandy hit the region in 2012. "It's a good example of a slowly encroaching process -- and then storms making it worse," Walker said.She is studying sediment cores from salt marshes and dating ancient, dead cedars in order to reconstruct sea level rise and ghost forest formation through time.The pace of sea level rise first quickened in the late 19th century after the Industrial Revolution, Walker said, and then sped up again in recent decades. It's now rising faster than at any point in the past several thousand years.Much of the Mullica River Estuary is a nature preserve, its many tributaries remote and undeveloped. But since 2015, Able and Walker have taken a series of helicopter rides over the area. "It's not one giant ghost forest," Walker said. "But the more you look, the more you find them."From above, they've seen swaths of dead trees along riverbanks many miles from the open ocean, suggesting that Sandy pushed seawater far up the river system."You get a slug of saltwater," Able said, "and things die."On the North Carolina Coast, Fires and SaltPaul Taillie, a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University, encountered a mystery: He wanted to know how quickly ghost forests form. So he repeated a study originally done 15 years earlier to see how plant life had changed over time.As expected, saltwater marsh had advanced. Pond pine and other salt-sensitive trees were dying. Salt-tolerant plants, including saw grass and black needle rush, were moving in.But unexpectedly, the change wasn't occurring evenly across the landscape. Trees were dying faster in some places than others.What could explain this uneven emergence of ghost forests?The study area had almost no slope -- much of it was just inches above sea level -- and the minor differences in elevation couldn't explain the variation.But a clue came from the soil. It tended to be saltier where trees were dying fastest.The explanation Taillie, who's now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida, landed on had to do with drought. When droughts hit, the amount of freshwater emptying into the ocean from nearby rivers declines, making nearshore waters saltier in some places.That saltier water then pushes inland unevenly, killing trees in an irregular pattern across an otherwise mostly uniform landscape. "It's not just rising sea level" that creates ghost forests, Tallie said, but periods of dryness."It's more during times of drought, when you have less freshwater, that the saltwater creeps in," he said. "Salinity goes up."Wildfires are another accelerant.Wetlands burn naturally here during dry years. Fires often travel on top of standing water, consuming grass and trees that rise above the muck.In the past, young trees quickly sprouted after fires. But recently, some forests have failed to recover."There's almost no regeneration," Chris Moorman, a disturbance ecologist at North Carolina State University, said as we surveyed an expanse of dead, mostly branchless trees. He and Taillie said they think that wetlands like these have become too salty for young pond pines, which are more sensitive to salt than mature ones. They can't gain a foothold in marshes their own forebears could tolerate.Drought is predicted to become more frequent as the climate warms, Taillie said. That means wildfires, combined with intensified dry spells and amplified saltwater intrusion may, together, accelerate the formation of ghost forests independently of sea level rise.The synergy of fire and salt produces particularly dramatic ghost forests. Along the Chesapeake Bay, stands of trees might gradually thin near open water, until just a few scraggly pines remain. But in some places here, acre upon acre of dead trees, sun-bleached and occasionally fire-blackened, stand sentinel over bubbling marshes.Yet while the ghost forests may evoke graveyards, the salt marsh plants that advance into dead and dying stands of trees are themselves valuable. Marshes provide homes for birds; they serve as nurseries for young fish and other sea creatures.And as the sea advances, the new marshes also provide a momentary buffer against the rising tide -- protecting the forests whose time has not yet come.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- A new study reveals how the last woolly mammoths died out 4,000 years ago. That's after the Egyptians had built the pyramids.
- Astronauts just printed meat in space for the first time — and it could change the way we grow food on Earth
- Boeing to invest $20M in Virgin Galactic, marking a milestone team-up in commercial space
Boeing says it's planning to invest $20 million in Virgin Galactic once it goes public, potentially unlocking a new level of synergy for commercial space travel. For Virgin Galactic, the deal will provide an extra dose of cash — but also access to Boeing's decades of expertise in providing aerospace products and services. In return, Boeing will have an inside track to the market for commercial space travel — which is part of CEO Dennis Muilenburg's vision for a continuum of aerospace transportation. "Space tourism, space factories … that whole ecosystem is evolving, and we’ll be deeply involved in the… Read More
- Astronomers spot 20 more moons of Saturn — and want you to help name them
Saturn has pulled ahead of Jupiter again in the moon discovery race, thanks to a batch of 20 outer moons that bring the ringed planet's total tally to 82. The newly reported satellites, confirmed by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, were found by the same team that reported spotting 12 new moons of Jupiter last year. As was the case with those moons of Jupiter, the discovery team at the Carnegie Institution for Science is soliciting suggestions for naming the newly reported moons of Jupiter. Right now, they're known only by their numerical designations, such as S/2004 S29… Read More
- 20 new moons were just discovered orbiting Saturn, and you can help name them
- A California county has some of the purest tap water in the US. Here's how it filters out sewage and chemicals so effectively.
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- Teacher Put on Leave After 'Sniper Rifle' Comment About Greta Thunberg, District Says
An Iowa chemistry teacher was placed on administrative leave after saying on Facebook that he would not attend a rally featuring climate activist Greta Thunberg because he didn't "have my sniper rifle," according to school officials and reports.The teacher, identified by school officials as Matt Baish, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the Waterloo Community School District said in an email to teachers and students, the television station KWWL reported Friday."The nature of the content shared rose to the level of putting this employee on administrative leave pending an investigation," the district said. "We appreciate your patience as we sort through the details and thank you for respecting the process."Mason Severson, 27, a former student of Baish's, asked in an Oct. 2 Facebook post who was going to attend a climate strike rally in Iowa City on Friday, and linked to an article with a photo of Thunberg.Baish responded, "dont have my sniper rifle," according to the post.Severson on Sunday said the post "was insensitive and taken too far.""It wasn't a joke," said Severson, who is a pre-med student at the University of Northern Iowa. "It wasn't baseless. It was irrefutably vile and wrong."Baish teaches chemistry at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa, about 55 miles north of Cedar Rapids.Baish, school officials and the Waterloo Education Association, the teachers' union, could not be reached for comment Sunday.Thunberg is a 16-year-old climate activist who began protesting outside of the Swedish parliament last year. After being invited, she spoke at the United Nations last month and made the trip to the United States on the Malizia II -- a racing yacht that uses solar panels and underwater generator turbines -- to avoid producing carbon emissions.Severson said Thunberg's activism was a "worthy cause" because "her words are on all of our -- millennials' -- lips," he said.This was not the first time Baish made a comment on one of Severson's Facebook posts that drew attention.In July, Severson posted photos of Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.Baish commented, "all 4 should be out of office ... worst Americans in my lifetime."A friend of Severson's, Dasia Mills-Anderson, 29, said on Facebook that Baish's comment about Thunberg was "disgusting."On Sunday, she said his remark was "absolutely vile for anyone, let alone a teacher.""He can have his opinion all he wants on climate change and even on Greta Thunberg, but threatening someone's life, especially a child, takes it too far," she said.Thunberg attended the rally Friday and urged those in attendance to "never give up.""No matter what, we need to continue, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem like, we must always carry on and we must never allow ourselves to give up," Thunberg said. "That is simply not an option."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- First All-Female Spacewalk Is Back On, NASA Says
The first spacewalk to be conducted entirely by women is scheduled for Oct. 21, NASA announced, nearly seven months after an all-female spacewalk was canceled because two properly fitted spacesuits were not readily available.Christina Koch and Anne McClain, the two astronauts who were scheduled to conduct the spacewalk in March, both needed a medium-size torso component, but only one was available.The spacewalk did take place -- it just wasn't all-female. Koch conducted the six-hour mission with fellow astronaut Nick Hague.McClain, whose domestic dispute sparked what is believed to be the first criminal case in space, returned to Earth in June after orbiting the planet more than 3,000 times in 204 days. Summer Worden, McClain's spouse, accused the astronaut of identity theft and improper access to her private financial records from space.Koch will now set out with astronaut Jessica Meir this month on the first women-only venture outside the International Space Station. They are set to install lithium-ion batteries to better serve the station's power supply.It will be the fourth of 10 spacewalks scheduled for the next three months, which might set a record pace of complex spacewalks since the space station was completed in 2011, NASA said."I think it's important because of the historical nature of what we're doing and in the past, women haven't always been at the table," Koch said on NASA TV. "And it's wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted."Koch and Meir were part of the 2013 astronaut class. Of the eight people in that class -- chosen from more than 6,000 applicants -- half were women, a first for NASA. The agency lists 38 active astronauts on its website; 12 are women.The first five scheduled spacewalks will upgrade the space station's power systems and the last five, planned for November and December, will repair the alpha magnetic spectrometer, which analyzes cosmic ray events.Koch, who arrived on the space station in March, is on her way to set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, surpassing Peggy Whitson, who in April became the American with the most overall space time."It's an honor to follow in Peggy's footsteps," Koch said. "I hope that me being up here and giving my best every day is a way for me to say thank you to people like her, who not only paved the way through their examples, but actively reached out to make sure we could be successful."Koch is scheduled to remain in orbit until February. Her mission will provide researchers time to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman's body, which will help support missions to the moon and Mars, according to NASA."What we're doing now shows all of the work that went in for the decades prior, all of the women that worked to get us where we are today," Meir, who arrived on the space station in September, said on NASA TV.Meir said she does not think a lot about being one of two women on the space station."It's just normal," she said. "We're part of the team."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- Scientists Solve a Puzzle: What's Really in a Fatberg
LONDON -- When a giant fatberg was discovered in the sewer of a small coastal town in southwestern England last year, the company that manages the pipes was so mystified by the greasy mass of solidified fats and waste materials that it enlisted the help of scientists to discover what it was made of.The grisly results of an autopsy were made public Friday, and they were not pretty, but held some surprises. Stuck within the massive, stomach-churning lump were wet wipes, as expected; oils; sanitary products; and even a set of false teeth.Fatbergs are more commonly associated with large cities such as London and New York. Their contents can become a taxonomy of the habits of the inhabitants of nearby towns or cities.When a 140-ton fatberg was found in the East End of London in 2017, a subsequent autopsy revealed that the city's residents had been flushing condoms, syringes and narcotics -- including cocaine and ketamine -- down the toilet, and they were all lodged inside it.But how a 210-foot-long fatberg could have festered for years underneath the picturesque seaside town of Sidmouth, England, more than 160 miles from London, presented a different puzzle to the company that manages the sewers in the area. Sidmouth, which counts only around 13,000 people as permanent residents, was not considered a prime fatberg target.So before all trace of the fatty mass was destroyed, South West Water, the company that manages the sewers in Sidmouth and across 4,300 square miles of England, demanded answers.Four 22-pound lumps were taken from the beastly blockage and dispatched to scientists at the University of Exeter nearby for analysis."We wanted to learn as much as we could about it, how it was created and what it was made of," Andrew Roantree, South West Water's director of wastewater, said in a statement.A team of 10 scientists welcomed the unusual challenge and carried out a dissection that involved melting down some parts of the fatberg, extracting and identifying the waste materials and even performing DNA sequencing.The study was fascinating, John Love, a professor of synthetic biology at the University of Exeter and the project's leader, said in an interview Friday. But his team did not embrace all parts of the autopsy."It was my first time analyzing a fatberg, and when you smell it, you think this is going to be the last time because the smell was honking," Love said. "It was awful to do, it smelled gross."He explained that he and his colleagues wore stab-proof gloves and steel-capped shoes to protect themselves from any potential dangers within the samples. But after weeks analyzing Sidmouth's fatberg, the scientists realized they had nothing to fear.The results found no dangerous bacteria or chemicals in the lumps, which were composed of domestic waste glued together by fats used in home cooking."We were all rather surprised to find that this Sidmouth fatberg was simply a lump of fat aggregated with wet wipes, sanitary towels and other household products that really should be put in the bin and not down the toilet," Love said in the statement.But, the experts discovered, just as the analysis of London's fatberg revealed some of its residents' illicit habits, the contents of Sidmouth's fatberg hinted at the town's population -- or more accurately, the kind of things they threw away or lost.A set of false teeth was found within it. So, too, were a number of incontinence pads."Sidmouth is a small coastal community that is largely populated by retired people, so in a sense that explains it," Love said. "This is not a hotbed of crime and drug-taking or anything like that," he added.London's Whitechapel fatberg was declared the biggest example in British history, and a piece taken from the 820-foot-long mass was put on display at the Museum of London last year.The exhibition captured the imagination of the public, bumping up visitor numbers, and the museum acquired the remaining parts for its permanent collection, even setting up a live-stream video of a piece of a yellowing fatty lump.Sidmouth's example, although it pales in comparison to its London equivalent, was the largest discovered in the service history of South West Water. A routine check in its sewers before Christmas last year revealed the fatberg longer than the Tower of Pisa lurking underneath the town's seafront road known as the Esplanade.Dismantling the lump was a huge operation: It took workers eight weeks to excavate 36 tanker loads -- each 3,000 gallons -- of debris from the site, and it cost the business around 100,000 pounds (about $123,000.)Despite the efforts made to banish the monster fatberg earlier this year, within the last few weeks, South West Water has revisited the sewer and noticed another one starting to form.The size is nowhere near that of the fatberg discovered last year, Roantree said Friday, adding hastily that officials would clear it away to make sure it does not grow any larger.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- NASA picks 25 space technologies for testing by Blue Origin and other companies
NASA's Flight Opportunities program has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rocket ships — including Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft. Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and headquartered in Kent, Wash., will be involved in testing 11 of the technologies. The company has been providing flights for suborbital space experiments since 2016 at its West Texas spaceport. The latest projects were selected as part of NASA's Tech Flights solicitation. Awardees typically receive a grant or enter into a cost-sharing agreement through which they can select a commercial flight… Read More
- Jeffrey Epstein had a 'Frankenstein'-like plan to analyze human DNA in the US Virgin Islands, and it reportedly pulled in $200 million
- New research suggests we might be thinking about the ocean plastic problem all wrong — trash dumped from ships could be a major culprit
- Pacific Northwest National Lab plays role in federally funded AI research center
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is joining forces with two other research powerhouses to pioneer a new $5.5 million research center created by the U.S. Department of Energy to focus on the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence. The Center for Artificial Intelligence-Focused Architectures and Algorithms, or ARIAA, will promote collaborative projects for scientists at PNNL in Richland, Wash., at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, and at Georgia Tech. PNNL and Sandia are part of the Energy Department's network of research labs. ARIAA will be headed by Roberto Gioiosa, a senior research scientist at PNNL. As center director, he'll be in… Read More
- Three spacefliers, including first Emirati in orbit, return to Earth from space station
Today's landing of a Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan brought one of the shortest recent stays on the International Space Station to an end, as part of a plan for one of the longest stays. The first representative of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, was part of the returning trio, along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russia's Alexey Ovchinin. All three seemed to be in good shape as they were brought out of their Soyuz and underwent an initial round of medical checks. Almansoori spent a mere eight days on the station, under an… Read More
- Astronomers plan to film the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as it gobbles up stars and planets. The video could open a 'new field' of science.
- An adorable photo shows 9 astronauts and cosmonauts hanging out in the International Space Station. Here's why the orbiting lab was so crowded.
- The ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus contains the building blocks of life, NASA data reveals
- Before we put people on Mars, we should infect the planet with Earthly microbes, a group of scientists says
- A 50-year-old technology that uses bursts of electricity to treat pain might finally catch on as doctors hunt for alternatives to opioids
- Relativity Space raises $140M to stay on track for 3D-printed rocket’s launch
Four years after it was founded in Seattle, Relativity Space has landed its biggest infusion of capital to date — and says the $140 million investment will fully fund its drive to launch the world's first all-3D-printed rocket into orbit and enter commercial service in 2021. The company, now based in Los Angeles, was founded by two rocket engineers with connections to Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture: CEO Tim Ellis, who worked on propulsion development and 3-D printing at Blue Origin's headquarters in Kent, Wash.; and chief technology officer Jordan Noone, who was a Blue Origin intern and went… Read More
- 16 recently discovered exoplanets could offer our best chance of finding alien life outside the solar system
- Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice.
Public health officials for years have urged Americans to limit consumption of red meat and processed meats because of concerns that these foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and other ills.But on Monday, in a remarkable turnabout, an international collaboration of researchers produced a series of analyses concluding that the advice, a bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines, is not backed by good scientific evidence.If there are health benefits from eating less beef and pork, they are small, the researchers concluded. Indeed, the advantages are so faint that they can be discerned only when looking at large populations, the scientists said, and are not sufficient to tell individuals to change their meat-eating habits."The certainty of evidence for these risk reductions was low to very low," said Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada and leader of the group publishing the new research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.The new analyses are among the largest such evaluations ever attempted and may influence future dietary recommendations. In many ways, they raise uncomfortable questions about dietary advice and nutritional research, and what sort of standards these studies should be held to.Already they have been met with fierce criticism by public health researchers. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other groups have savaged the findings and the journal that published them.Some called for the journal's editors to delay publication altogether. In a statement, scientists at Harvard warned that the conclusions "harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research."Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group advocating a plant-based diet, on Wednesday filed a petition against the journal with the Federal Trade Commission. Dr. Frank Sacks, past chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, called the research "fatally flawed."While the new findings are likely to please proponents of popular high-protein diets, they seem certain to add to public consternation over dietary advice that seems to change every few years. The conclusions represent another in a series of jarring dietary reversals involving salt, fats, carbohydrates and more.The prospect of a renewed appetite for red meat also runs counter to two other important trends: a growing awareness of the environmental degradation caused by livestock production and long-standing concern about the welfare of animals employed in industrial farming.Beef in particular is not just another foodstuff: It was a treasured symbol of post-World War II prosperity, set firmly in the center of America's dinner plate. But as concerns about its health effects have risen, consumption of beef has fallen steadily since the mid-1970s, largely replaced by poultry."Red meat used to be a symbol of high social class, but that's changing," said Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. Today, the more highly educated Americans are, the less red meat they eat, he noted.Still, the average American eats about 4 1/2 servings of red meat a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 10% of the population eats at least two servings a day.The new reports are based on three years of work by a group of 14 researchers in seven countries, along with three community representatives, directed by Johnston. The investigators reported no conflicts of interest and did the studies without outside funding.In three reviews, the group looked at studies asking whether eating red meat or processed meats affected the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.To assess deaths from any cause, the group reviewed 61 articles reporting on 55 populations, with more than 4 million participants. The researchers also looked at randomized trials linking red meat to cancer and heart disease (there are very few), as well as 73 articles that examined links between red meat and cancer incidence and mortality.In each study, the scientists concluded that the links between eating red meat and disease and death were small, and the quality of the evidence was low to very low.That is not to say that those links don't exist. But they are mostly in studies that observe groups of people, a weak form of evidence. Even then, the health effects of red meat consumption are detectable only in the largest groups, the team concluded, and an individual cannot conclude that he or she will be better off not eating red meat.A fourth study asked why people like red meat, and whether they were interested in eating less to improve their health. If Americans were highly motivated by even modest heath hazards, then it might be worth continuing to advise them to eat less red meat.But the conclusion? The evidence even for this is weak, but the researchers found that "omnivores are attached to meat and are unwilling to change this behavior when faced with potentially undesirable health effects."Taken together, the analyses raise questions about the long-standing dietary guidelines urging people to eat less red meat, experts said."The guidelines are based on papers that presumably say there is evidence for what they say, and there isn't," said Dr. Dennis Bier, director of the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and past editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.David Allison, dean of the Indiana University School of Public Health--Bloomington, cited "a difference between a decision to act and making a scientific conclusion."It is one thing for an individual to believe eating less red meat and processed meat will improve health. But he said, "if you want to say the evidence shows that eating red meat or processed meats has these effects, that's more objective," adding "the evidence does not support it."Allison, who was not involved in the study, has received research funding from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a lobbying group for meat producers.The new studies were met with indignation by nutrition researchers who have long said that red meat and processed meats contribute to the risk of heart disease and cancer."Irresponsible and unethical," said Hu, of Harvard, in a commentary published online with his colleagues. Studies of red meat as a health hazard may have been problematic, he said, but the consistency of the conclusions over years gives them credibility.Nutrition studies, he added, should not be held to the same rigid standards as studies of experimental drugs.Evidence of red meat's hazards still persuaded the American Cancer Society, said Marjorie McCullough, a senior scientific director of the group."It is important to recognize that this group reviewed the evidence and found the same risk from red and processed meat as have other experts," she said in a statement. "So they're not saying meat is less risky; they're saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals."At the heart of the debate is a dispute over nutritional research itself, and whether it's possible to ascertain the effects of just one component of the diet. The gold standard for medical evidence is the randomized clinical trial, in which one group of participants is assigned one drug or diet, and another is assigned a different intervention or a placebo.But asking people to stick to a diet assigned by a flip of a coin, and to stay with it long enough to know if it affects the risk for heart attack or cancer risk is nearly impossible.The alternative is an observational study: Investigators ask people what they eat and look for links to health. But it can be hard to know what people really are eating, and people who eat a lot of meat are different in many other ways from those who eat little or none."Do individuals who habitually consume burgers for lunch typically also consume fries and a Coke, rather than yogurt or a salad and a piece of fruit?" asked Alice Lichtenstein, a nutritionist at Tufts University. "I don't think an evidence-based position can be taken unless we know and adjust for the replacement food."The findings are a time to reconsider how nutritional research is done in the country, some researchers said, and whether the results really help to inform an individual's decisions."I would not run any more observational studies," said Dr. John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor who studies health research and policy. "We have had enough of them. It is extremely unlikely that we are missing a large signal," referring to a large effect of any particular dietary change on health.Despite flaws in the evidence, health officials still must give advice and offer guidelines, said Dr. Meir Stampfer, also of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He believes that the data in favor of eating less meat, although imperfect, indicate there are likely to be health benefits.One way to give advice would be to say "reduce your red meat intake," Stampfer said. But then, "People would say, 'Well, what does that mean?'"Officials making recommendations feel they have to suggest a number of servings. Yet when they do, "that gives it an aura of having greater accuracy than exists," he added.Questions of personal health do not even begin to address the environmental degradation caused worldwide by intensive meat production. Meat and dairy are big contributors to climate change, with livestock production accounting for about 14.5% of the greenhouse gases that humans emit worldwide each year.Beef in particular tends to have an outsized climate footprint, partly because of all the land needed to raise cattle and grow feed, and partly because cows belch up methane, a potent greenhouse gas.Researchers have estimated that, on average, beef has about five times the climate impact of chicken or pork, per gram of protein. Plant-based foods tend to have an even smaller impact.Perhaps there is no way to make policies that can be conveyed to the public and simultaneously communicate the breadth of scientific evidence concerning diet.Or maybe, said Bier, policymakers should try something more straightforward: "When you don't have the highest-quality evidence, the correct conclusion is 'maybe.'"This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- NASA issues its fast-track plan to get two commercial lunar landers for 2024-2025
After two preliminary rounds, NASA today published its final call for industry proposals to have the first two landers capable of putting astronauts on the moon ready for 2024 and 2025. NASA's broad agency announcement, known as NextSTEP-2 Appendix H, makes clear that two different companies would be chosen to build human-capable landers. One of them would be used for the Artemis 3 mission, which aims to send two astronauts to and from the lunar surface in 2024. The other would be used for a demonstration mission in 2025. Those two missions would set the stage for putting an upgraded… Read More
- Musk Sets Out SpaceX Starship's Ambitious Launch Timeline
BOCA CHICA VILLAGE, Texas -- As Elon Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, says repeatedly, he created a rocket company because he wanted to colonize Mars. His fervent argument is that humanity must spread to a second planet as insurance for long-term survival."Which future do you want?" he asked near the start of a presentation Saturday night at a launch site near the southern tip of Texas, during which he said the options were being "confined to Earth" or becoming a spacefaring species.Musk said he hoped the audience agreed that humans should prepare for life elsewhere in the solar system as he delivered a progress report on Starship, a giant rocket that is the centerpiece of his ambitions.Standing before the prototype and a rocket built earlier in the company's history, he pledged that Starship would first take off to an altitude of 65,000 feet and then land, "in about one to two months.""This is going to sound totally nuts," he said later, "but I think we want to try to reach orbit in less than 6 months," adding that this timeline relied on continued improvements in manufacturing the rockets.What Is Starship?Starship is the latest name for the upper stage of what Musk had been calling BFR. The "B" stood for Big, the "R" stood for Rocket, and Musk never publicly stated the meaning of "F."SpaceX currently flies two rockets: the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, which is essentially a Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 boosters attached to the side. The present-day Falcons are too small for sending people to Mars.Musk and SpaceX have long envisioned a much larger rocket. For a while, Musk referred to it as the "Mars Colonial Transporter." But when he finally revealed a design at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2016, he called it the "Interplanetary Transport System."This spaceship was gargantuan, with a diameter of nearly 40 feet, and the capacity to take 100 people to Mars.A year later in Australia, Musk said the rocket had been scaled down by one-quarter, to a diameter of 30 feet. This was the BFR. The second stage was a sleek-looking spacecraft that would return to Earth in one piece and land vertically.Last November, SpaceX announced the Starship name; the first stage of BFR is now known as the Super Heavy booster. In recent days, Musk has been posting updates as the prototypes come together.On Saturday before Musk's presentation, SpaceX highlighted Starship's size by displaying it alongside the company's original Falcon 1 rocket, which first launched to orbit in 2008.Can This Really Be Done?Starship with the Super Heavy booster is essentially a rocket as powerful as a Saturn 5, which took NASA's Apollo astronauts to the moon 50 years ago, but it's fully reusable. For Apollo, everything but the small capsule on top, where the astronauts sat, was discarded along the way, and even the capsule could be used only once.Experts say Starship is within the realm of the possible, without requiring impossible physics or unlikely technological leaps. Indeed, Starship employs ideas that were studied decades ago but never built. The biggest innovation is perhaps that SpaceX and Musk have applied the accelerated research-and-development approach of Silicon Valley, building fast and fixing failures fast.Two competing teams at SpaceX are each building prototypes of Starship. One is in Florida, near Cape Canaveral; the other is at Boca Chica in Texas.Why Is Starship Shiny and Silver?While most rockets these days have more utilitarian appearances, SpaceX's prototype resembles something from a sci-fi movie of the 1950s.In part, that is because in its rush to get the prototypes to the launch pad, SpaceX has not bothered with such aesthetic niceties as paint. But there also are good engineering reasons for the choice of material.Musk originally had planned to use high-tech carbon fiber, but switched to stainless steel. Steel is heavier than carbon fiber and aluminum, another common material used for rockets, but it is also cheaper -- about 2% of the cost of carbon fiber, Musk said -- and has a higher melting temperature that can more easily withstand the heat of re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.Didn't SpaceX Already Fly a Big Rocket?In August, SpaceX tested a simple prototype that it called Starhopper, with a single engine, which Musk earlier compared to a flying water tower. It lifted to an altitude of 500 feet, flew sideways and then set down at a different spot.The flight lasted 57 seconds. A shorter July flight went 65 feet in the air.When Will Starship Take Off?At Saturday's presentation, Musk provided updated schedules for the next phase of test launches, which will start with suborbital flights before heading to orbit. SpaceX officials have said that a cargo version of Starship could start launching satellites as early as 2021.A Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, has purchased an around-the-moon trip on a Starship that is to take off in 2023.Musk, however, has a history of overly optimistic predictions. In Guadalajara in 2016, for example, he said the aim was to send the first cargo flight to Mars in 2022 and the first people there two years later. Those dates are unlikely to be met.On Friday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine reminded Musk that NASA, SpaceX's biggest and most important customer, was awaiting the delivery of another big SpaceX project: taking NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the company's Crew Dragon capsules.Neither SpaceX nor Boeing, which also received a contract for providing transportation for NASA astronauts, appears to be on track to launch crews this year. When the contracts were awarded in 2014, NASA hoped that the flights would begin as early as 2017.On Saturday, Musk responded to Bridenstine's comments, stating that, "the vast majority," of SpaceX's resources were focused on its current rockets and capsules, including the Crew Dragon capsule for NASA.How Does SpaceX Make Money with Starship?While experts find Starship to be technologically feasible, they do question how SpaceX can make enough money with it. Without a profitable business, SpaceX could not finance its expensive Mars ambitions, which are unlikely to make money anytime soon.Musk has talked of the Starship replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. But the rocket is much bigger than needed: Think of taking a semitrailer truck to go grocery shopping.A cargo Starship could conceivably take up several satellites at once, but satellites typically circle Earth in different orbits, and coordinating launches among different customers is difficult.SpaceX officials have also talked about how Starship could shuttle people across the world at speeds much faster than airplanes; a flight from New York to Tokyo could take less than an hour. Still, the question remains: How many people are willing to pay at great expense for a faster trip?How Does Starship Compare to NASA's Rockets?NASA is working on its own big rocket, called the Space Launch System, that will initially be able to lift about 70 metric tons; a later, upgraded version is to lift 130 metric tons. (Starship with Super Heavy will lift more than 100 metric tons.)But while SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy take advantage of cutting-edge technologies and are fully reusable, SLS is largely a remix of components from the retired space shuttles.It is also not reusable; estimates are that it will cost $1 billion per launch, and launch no more than once a year.NASA also already spent billions on SLS, first announced in 2011, and Orion, the crew-carrying capsule. The first SLS flight has been delayed for years; it is not expected to lift off until 2021. The first moon landing by astronauts is to occur on the third launch of SLS.Couldn't NASA Just Buy Rides on Starship?The delays and cost overruns of SLS frustrate many space aficionados, as well as NASA's inspector general and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Some contend NASA could get places quicker and more cheaply if it took better advantage of commercial developments like Starship.However, to date, Congress, which decides NASA's budget and priorities, has continued to finance work on SLS and Orion.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
- Elon Musk's ambitious plan for SpaceX's Starship aims to put the reusable rocket system in orbit in less than six months
- How to Develop an Appetite for Insects
Repeat after me: entomophagy.It's derived from Greek and Latin: "entomon," meaning "insect," and "phagus," as in "feeding on."Some think it's the future of food.In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal.Presenters at a 2018 conference in Georgia, Eating Insects Athens, published papers this month in a special issue of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. The volume showed how people who study insects scientifically are now spending more time thinking about eating them.Here are some highlights of what the researchers found:Thank Christopher ColumbusWhen Christopher Columbus returned from the Americas, he and members of his expedition used the insect-eating of the native inhabitants as an example of savagery, and as justification for dehumanizing people he would later enslave, said Julie Lesnik, an anthropologist at Wayne State University and author of "Edible Insects and Human Evolution."While it wasn't the only factor, the colonial era deepened the stigmatization of entomophagy in mainland Europe, and in turn among European settlers in the Americas. Further distaste grew as insects threatened profitable agricultural monocultures supported by slavery and industrialization.It wasn't always that way. Aristotle loved cicadas. Pliny the Elder preferred beetle larvae. They weren't that different from insect eaters among other cultures on other continents.Those Who Experienced Colonialism May Lead the WayEvidence of insects in written reports, fossilized feces and mummies found in caves across North America, and corroboration from nearly every other continent, suggest humans have valued insects as food for millenniums.Today, billions of people still consume more than 2,100 insect species worldwide. Even in the United States, Kutzadika'a people, or "fly eaters," cherish salty pupae from Mono Lake in California.Some shoppers may be following suit, purchasing popular cricket flour and protein bars from manufacturers like Chapul in specialty shops and on Amazon. That company is named after an Aztec word for cricket, and pitches itself to customers as aiming to reduce water usage by livestock in the American West and connecting with native cultures' food knowledge.Undoing Centuries of Entomophagy-phobiaMany of us were programmed early in life to fear insects, and developing an appetite for them won't be easy."It's OK if you think it's gross. It's totally fine," said Lesnik. "You didn't ask to be programmed this way."But entomophagy advocates think reprogramming can transform people's attitudes toward insects. For instance, kale, sushi, lobster and even olive oil or tomatoes were once scorned and unfamiliar in some cultures.But change can come about. With education and by acknowledging negative feelings toward eating insects, adults can try to resist passing them to their children."It will really benefit them if they don't think bugs are gross," she added. "Because it's our kids' generation that's going to have to be able to solve those problems."Still, Insects Aren't Yet Beef or ChickenIn the United States, black soldier flies, good at converting waste products to protein, have long been used as feed for poultry and farmed fish.To better understand how to produce more of them, researchers have just characterized their reproductive systems -- from the tracts' shapes to the sperm tails' lengths. They have also discovered that larvae raised in relatively low densities are more likely to survive, grow heavier at each life stage and develop more quickly.That kind of research could be a model for eventually mass producing other insects for human consumption, like mealworms or crickets, which we're a long way off from growing in ways that could feed the masses. While years of agricultural research have guided industry regulations aiming to make beef, poultry and pork healthier and safer, and less wasteful of what they eat, similar research and rules for most insects are a long way off.When Insects Are and Are Not FilthyHere's a conundrum: When an insect is in our food, the Food and Drug Administration considers it "filth."But as long as manufactured insects are "free from filth, pathogens, toxins," the Department of Agriculture says it's food.While regulations are clear about insect food sales, they're more like guidelines for insect food and feed production. The lack of stronger regulations may be limiting the number of insect-based foods on the market today.Even if consumers become more comfortable with the idea of eating insects, they won't stay that way without specific regulations meant to ensure quality and safety. That's a goal supported by industry groups like the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture, recently formed, in part, to work with regulators as more bugs are introduced into our diets.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company