Why black holes are the scariest things in the universe
For one, falling into a black hole is easily the worst way to die. […]
Black holes – regions in space where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape – are a hot topic in the news these days. Half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Roger Penrose for his mathematical work showing that black holes are an inescapable consequence of Einstein’s theory of gravity. Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel shared the other half for showing that a massive black hole sits at the center of our galaxy.
Black holes are scary for three reasons. If you fell into a black hole left over when a star died, you would be shredded. Also, the massive black holes seen at the center of all galaxies have insatiable appetites. And black holes are places where the laws of physics are obliterated.
Ancient dog DNA reveals 11,000 years of canine evolution
Human history is for the dogs. The largest-ever study of ancient genomes from the animals suggests that where people went, so did their four-legged friends — to a point. The research also identified major regional shifts in human ancestry that left little mark on dog populations, as well as times when dogs changed, but their masters didn’t.
The analysis of more than two dozen Eurasian dogs also suggests the animals were domesticated and became widespread around the world well before 11,000 years ago. But it does not make any claims as to when or where domestication from wolves happened, an issue that has vexed researchers and sparked sometimes heated debate.
Wealthy funder pays reparations for use of HeLa cells
A major biomedical-research organization has for the first time aimed to make financial reparation for the continuing experimental use of cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who was the source of the historic ‘HeLa’ cell line, which has been a mainstay of biological research for decades. The Henrietta Lacks Foundation announced the six-figure gift from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on 29 October.
To survive asteroid impact, algae learned to hunt
Tiny, seemingly harmless ocean plants survived the darkness of the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs by learning a ghoulish behavior—eating other living creatures.
Vast amounts of debris, soot, and aerosols shot into the atmosphere when an asteroid slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the planet into darkness, cooling the climate, and acidifying the oceans. Along with the dinosaurs on the land and giant reptiles in the ocean, the dominant species of marine algae were instantly wiped out—except for one rare type.
New study reveals United States a top source of plastic pollution in coastal environments
A study published today in the journal Science Advances has revealed that the United States ranks as high as third among countries contributing to coastal plastic pollution when taking into account its scrap plastic exports as well as the latest figures on illegal dumping and littering in the country. The new research challenges the once-held assumption that the United States is adequately "managing"—that is, collecting and properly landfilling, recycling or otherwise containing—its plastic waste. A previous study using 2010 data that did not account for plastic scrap exports had ranked the United States 20th, globally, in its contribution to ocean plastic pollution from mismanaged waste.
Using plastic waste generation data from 2016—the latest available global numbers—scientists from Sea Education Association, DSM Environmental Services, University of Georgia, and Ocean Conservancy calculated that more than half of all plastics collected for recycling (1.99 million metric tons of 3.91 million metric tons collected) in the United States were shipped abroad. Of this, 88% of exports went to countries struggling to effectively manage, recycle, or dispose of plastics; and between 15-25% was low-value or contaminated, meaning it was effectively unrecyclable. Taking these factors into account, the researchers estimated that up to 1 million metric tons of U.S.-generated plastic waste ended up polluting the environment beyond its own borders.
Big Oil’s hopes are pinned on plastics. It won’t end well.
The fossil fuel industry has not been doing well lately. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, growth in global demand had slowed to 1 percent annually. Now, lockdowns and distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus have decimated the industry. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released projections of rapid short-term decline in global demand, to the tune of 9 percent for oil, 8 percent for coal, and 5 percent for gas.
Depending on how long and severe the economic crisis proves to be, it will take years for demand to recover. Indeed, with electric vehicles cutting into oil demand by the end of the decade, it may never fully recover. Industry analysts like Carbon Tracker’s Kingsmill Bond are speculating that 2019 may turn out to be the peak of fossil fuel demand, and historically, in other industries, a peak in demand “tends to mark the beginning of a period of low prices and poor returns,” says Bond.
But the industry has a response to this dire forecast, and it can be summarized in one word: plastics.
Why the record low Arctic sea ice this October is so alarming
For the past five months, Melinda Webster has lived on an icebreaker ship frozen in an ice floe near the North Pole.
For Webster, a sea ice geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, it was an ideal observatory. She and a team of 14 other scientists set out, as part of the largest polar expedition ever, to study rapidly disappearing sea ice, which is often shrouded from the view of satellites by thick fog.
Protected from polar bears by armed guards, the researchers spent their days measuring every aspect of the sea ice including the snow and ice thickness, the depth of melt ponds on the surface, and the ice’s reflectivity. They wore red “survival suits” to insulate them during the occasional plunge through cracking ice into the Arctic Ocean.
“People did fall in, myself included,” Webster recounted with a laugh. “But that’s just part of it, you know.”
NASA's SOFIA discovers water on sunlit surface of Moon
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.
SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon's southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon's surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million -- roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water -- trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.
A drop in human body temperature
In the nearly two centuries since German physician Carl Wunderlich established 98.6°F as the standard "normal" body temperature, it has been used by parents and doctors alike as the measure by which fevers -- and often the severity of illness -- have been assessed.
Over time, however, and in more recent years, lower body temperatures have been widely reported in healthy adults. A 2017 study among 35,000 adults in the United Kingdom found average body temperature to be lower (97.9°F), and a 2019 study showed that the normal body temperature in Americans (those in Palo Alto, California, anyway) is about 97.5°F.
Salmon study sheds light on why fall-run fish are bigger than their spring-run cousins
For the Yurok people, who have lived at the mouth of the Klamath River for generations, the spring run of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is a welcome—and nutritious—relief from winter. But as the fish have dwindled to just a fraction of their original numbers, Indigenous groups there are pushing to have them protected by the Endangered Species Act. New research, which suggests genes play only a small role in distinguishing the spring salmon from their fall-run cousins, may call into question the need for such a designation.
Newly discovered reef is taller than a skyscraper
Scientists have found a towering coral reef off the northern tip of Australia, the first discovery of its kind in 120 years, BBC News reports. At 500 meters tall, the reef surpasses the height of the Empire State Building and the Shanghai World Financial Center. Researchers made their discovery during a 3D mapping exercise of the northern Great Barrier Reef sea floor, part of a yearlong effort to explore the oceans surrounding Australia. With a 1.5-kilometer-wide base, the reef tapers to a point just 40 meters below the ocean’s surface, the Schmidt Ocean Institute announced in a press release this week. The massive, bladelike reef is not part of the main body of the Great Barrier Reef and adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area. You can check out the full exploratory dive of the newly discovered reef here.
As If the Platypus Couldn’t Get Any Weirder
The platypus is nature’s crazy quilt, as this strange creature looks like about a half-dozen different animals all rolled into one. Turns out that platypuses were hiding yet another conspicuous feature: THEY CAN FREAKIN’ GLOW IN THE DARK.
It’s not enough to be a mammal who lays eggs, sports a duck-like bill and webbed feet, hunts using electroreception, and wields venomous spurs. The platypus also glows green under ultraviolet light. Because of course it does. Details of this unexpected discovery were published earlier this month in the science journal Mammalia.
The platypus now joins a very exclusive club, as it’s one of only three known biofluorescent mammals, the other two being opossums and flying squirrels. That said, the platypus does stand alone as the only known monotreme, or egg-laying mammal, capable of pulling off this trick (the only other extant monotremes are four species of echidna). Of course, biofluorescence and bioluminescence is seen in many other organisms, such as fungi, fish, phytoplankton, reptiles, amphibians, and at least one species of tardigrade.
Birds With 20-Foot Wingspans Once Patrolled the Skies of Antarctica
A re-analysis of two fossils found in the 1980s has led to the discovery of an absolutely enormous Antarctic seabird.
The modern wandering albatross, with its 11.5-foot (3.5-meter) wingspan, is damned impressive. But this newly described bird, with wings stretching nearly 20 feet (6 meters), is the stuff of imagination. Living during the Eocene between 50 million and 40 million years ago, this oversized pelagornithid, or “bony-toothed” bird, prowled the Antarctic skies in search of squid and fish, according to research published today in Scientific Reports.
'Sleeping giant' Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find
Scientists have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean – known as the “sleeping giants of the carbon cycle” – have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast, the Guardian can reveal.
High levels of the potent greenhouse gas have been detected down to a depth of 350 metres in the Laptev Sea near Russia, prompting concern among researchers that a new climate feedback loop may have been triggered that could accelerate the pace of global heating.
The slope sediments in the Arctic contain a huge quantity of frozen methane and other gases – known as hydrates. Methane has a warming effect 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years. The United States Geological Survey has previously listed Arctic hydrate destabilisation as one of four most serious scenarios for abrupt climate change.
Humans pushing North Atlantic right whale to extinction faster than believed
Humans are killing the endangered North Atlantic right whale far faster than previously thought, and experts say the window to act is quickly closing.
According to new modelling from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, only 356 of the whales remain in the world — a significant decline from the 409 logged last year.
Of the remaining whales, only about 70 breeding females survive. Without decisive action, experts fear females could disappear in the next 10 to 20 years.
Scientists find Madagascar chameleon last seen 100 years ago
Scientists say they have found an elusive chameleon species that was last spotted in Madagascar 100 years ago.
Researchers from Madagascar and Germany said Friday that they discovered several living specimens of Voeltzkow’s chameleon during an expedition to the northwest of the African island nation.
In a report published in the journal Salamandra, the team led by scientists from the Bavarian Natural History Collections ZSM said genetic analysis determined that the species is closely related to Labord’s chameleon.
Australia wildfires probe recommends climate risk forecasts
An investigation into Australia’s catastrophic wildfire season on Friday recommended greater efforts to forecast the impacts of climate change on specific parts of the country, warning fire behavior was becoming more extreme.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements began in February while wildfires were ravaging vast swathes of the nation’s southeast in a fire season that is now known as Black Summer.
Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid probe ready to return to Earth after leak
A Nasa probe sent to collect rock from an asteroid several hundred million kilometres from Earth is back on track after some technical concerns.
Officials behind the Osiris-Rex probe, which landed on Bennu earlier this week, were worried after a rock wedged open the door of a container. This meant that samples were spilling out from the craft. But now the space agency says the rock samples have been safely sealed and the probe is ready to return to Earth.
"We are here to announce today that we've successfully completed that operation," said Rich Burns, the mission's project manager.
The samples will only be examined after the spacecraft completes its long journey home - it will touch down in September 2023.
US election 2020: What the results will mean for climate change
[…] Scientists studying climate change say that the re-election of Donald Trump could make it "impossible" to keep global temperatures in check.
They're worried another four years of Trump would "lock in" the use of fossil fuels for decades to come - securing and enhancing the infrastructure for oil and gas production rather than phasing them out as environmentalists want.
Joe Biden's climate plan, the scientists argue, would give the world a fighting chance.
The Pandemic Is in Uncharted Territory
The United States set a new record for reported cases this week, breaking 500,000 for the first time in the pandemic as the third surge continued to build across nearly every state in the country.
Today, the country recorded 88,452 new cases of COVID-19, its highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Over the past two weeks, 25 states have set a new record for cases in the past two weeks, including 17 states with record highs since last Wednesday.
The country reported a record number of tests, at 8.2 million, but case growth (24 percent) far outpaced test growth (9 percent), as we explained earlier this week. That’s also true for the entire month of October: Forty-seven of the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, have seen cases rise faster than reported tests since October 1.
The Rogue Planets That Wander the Galaxy Alone
The Milky Way is home to hundreds of billions of stars, and many more planets. Some come in sets, as in our own solar system. But not every planet orbits a star.
Some planets actually wander the galaxy alone, untethered. They have no days or nights, and they exist in perpetual darkness. In a kitschy NASA collection of travel posters for destinations beyond Earth, one of these cold worlds is advertised with the motto: “Visit the planet with no star, where the nightlife never ends.”
Astronomers call these worlds free-floating, or rogue, planets. They are mysterious objects, and a small group of researchers around the world is dedicated to studying them. Of the thousands of planets that scientists have detected beyond our solar system so far, only about a dozen are sunless and coasting on their own, somewhere between us and the center of the Milky Way. At least, astronomers think they are. “We are sure that these objects are planets,” Przemek Mroz, an astronomer at Caltech, told me. “We are not fully sure whether these objects are free-floating or not.”
Los Angeles Times
COVID-19 deaths could swing the election to Democrats, study says
… voters in areas that suffered more casualties during the Iraq War were less likely to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the 2006 midterm elections, while voters in areas that took more casualties in Afghanistan were more likely to support Trump for president in 2016 instead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Now political scientists are seeing the pattern again — except this time the war is happening on U.S. soil and the foe is COVID-19.
“Increasing fatalities from the disease leads to losses for Republicans,” a team from George Washington University and UCLA reported Friday in the journal Science Advances.
Fed up with the election? Science explains how politics got so awful
[…] How did things get so bad that Americans couldn’t come together to confront a universal threat like COVID-19, which has killed more than 227,000 of us so far?
A report in this week’s issue of Science offers an explanation — political sectarianism.
The authors of the new report explain that political sectarianism goes beyond mere disagreements about the nation’s goals and how they should be achieved. Nor is it a case of people being trapped in partisan echo chambers, or sorting themselves into Democratic and Republican ecospheres where they’re unlikely to encounter a contrary point of view.
A new way to plug a human brain into a computer: Via veins
[…] On Wednesday, a team of scientists and engineers showed results from a promising new approach. It involves mounting electrodes on an expandable, springy tube called a stent and threading it through a blood vessel that leads to the brain. In tests on two people, the researchers literally went for the jugular, running a stent-tipped wire up that vein in the throat and then into a vessel near the brain’s primary motor cortex, where they popped the spring. The electrodes snuggled into the vessel wall and started sensing when the people’s brains signaled their intention to move—and sent those signals wirelessly to a computer, via an infrared transmitter surgically inserted in the subjects’ chests. In an article published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, the Australian and US researchers describe how two people with paralysis due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) used such a device to send texts and fool around online by brain-control alone.
“Not just a virus that kills people”—WHO spotlights long-term COVID-19
A significant number of people infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are experiencing long-term symptoms and taking many weeks or months to fully recover, the World Health Organization emphasized in a press conference today. […]
While there have long been reports of COVID-19 long-haulers, the WHO worked to raise awareness of the problem today. It’s still unclear what proportion of infected people go on to have mid- to long-term health problems, Tedros noted. But, it's clear that "this is not just a virus that kills people." And with more than 45 million cases globally—and counting—even a small percentage will mean a large number of people will have long-term disability.