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Earth

NASA Makes Two Decades of Satellite Images of Earth Available To the Public (discovermagazine.com) 43

The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse. Tom Yulsman, writing for Discover Magazine: Multiple instruments aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the entire treasure trove of imagery and scientific information is available for exploration in Worldview, an engaging, interactive web-based application. I've been using Worldview regularly to find imagery for use here at ImaGeo since I launched the blog in 2013. But until now, there was a significant limitation: The data available went back only to 2012. Now, after more than five years of work, NASA has extended what's available on Worldview back to the year 2000, when the Terra satellite first became operational. Terra was lofted into polar orbit with a suite of five remote sensors. The most comprehensive is an instrument called the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS.
Government

In the Trump Administration, Science Is Unwelcome. So Is Advice. (nytimes.com) 708

Anonymous readers share a report: As President Trump prepares to meet Kim Jong-un of North Korea to negotiate denuclearization, a challenge that has bedeviled the world for years, he is doing so without the help of a White House science adviser or senior counselor trained in nuclear physics. Mr. Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on technical matters ranging from nuclear warfare to global pandemics. As a businessman and president, Mr. Trump has proudly been guided by his instincts. Nevertheless, people who have participated in past nuclear negotiations say the absence of such high-level expertise could put him at a tactical disadvantage in one of the weightiest diplomatic matters of his presidency.

"You need to have an empowered senior science adviser at the table," said R. Nicholas Burns, who led negotiations with India over a civilian nuclear deal during the George W. Bush administration. "You can be sure the other side will have that." The lack of traditional scientific advisory leadership in the White House is one example of a significant change in the Trump administration: the marginalization of science in shaping United States policy. There is no chief scientist at the State Department, where science is central to foreign policy matters such as cybersecurity and global warming. Nor is there a chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture: Mr. Trump last year nominated Sam Clovis, a former talk-show host with no scientific background, to the position, but he withdrew his name and no new nomination has been made.

Medicine

University Seeks Volunteers For 'Hotel Influenza' (fortune.com) 51

The National Institutes of Health is paying a St. Louis university to study the effectiveness of flu vaccines. An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: The university wants volunteers to live in "hotel influenza," where they'd be either given a vaccine or a placebo, be exposed to the flu, and be quarantined for 10 days in the Extended Stay Research Unit. Compensation for such an experiment is around $3,500 (for time and travel), according to a SLU release... "In a traditional flu study, we vaccinate people and see if their immune systems respond by creating antibodies that fight flu," Dr. Hoff said in a release. "In a human challenge study, we vaccinate people, then deliberately challenge their bodies by exposing them to flu to see if they get sick"...

The 24 volunteers living in the "hotel influenza" would have private rooms and bathrooms, common areas with with chairs and TVs, along with exercise equipment, and catered meals in a dining room. They will be observed, "have blood and lung tests and nose swabs to see if they are infected with flu and shedding the virus." If they come down with the flu, they won't be able to leave until they've tested negative for the virus for two days. Nurses would be available around the clock.

One St. Louis newspaper jokes that it will either be a "sickathon" -- or "an indoor vacation complete with catered meals, TV, internet, a gym and views of the Arch".
Medicine

Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Seeks Investors For New Company (vanityfair.com) 108

There's a new surprise from the Wall Street Journal's John Carreyrou (author of the Theranos expose Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup). An anonymous reader shares Vanity Fair's summary of their newest podcast interview: According to Carreyrou, Holmes is currently waltzing around Silicon Valley, meeting with investors, hoping to raise money for an entirely new start-up idea. (My mouth dropped when I heard that, too....) I'm sure she will somehow succeed in convincing someone to hand over millions of dollars, especially if venture capitalists like Tim Draper (an early Theranos investor) are still out there saying the stories by Carreyrou were wrong (they weren't), and that Holmes was on the precipice of saving the world (she wasn't) before the media came after her.

You would think that seeing Holmes's duplicity wrapped up in a neat bow in Carreyrou's book, and in the S.E.C. settlement -- which, incidentally, mentions the term "fraud" seven times -- would force Silicon Valley to perform its own due diligence, and question whether the way C.E.O.s, investors, and the media interact should be re-evaluated. But alas, the tech world doesn't see Theranos as a tech company, but rather a biotech outlier... Of course, there is still a major criminal investigation underway by the F.B.I., one that could end with Holmes behind bars.

Carreyou tells another interviewer that Theranos "is a cautionary tale about the hubris in the Valley... there's certainly a lot of innovation there, but there's also an unbelievable amount of arrogance and pretending."
Space

New Horizons Spacecraft Wakes Up To Prepare For Historic Flyby of Distant Object (space.com) 36

jwhyche writes: The New Horizons space probe has been in hibernation mode since Dec. 21. On June 5th, the spacecraft exited hibernation mode and began preparing for its next encounter. The spacecraft is currently 3.7 billion miles from Earth and will be spending the next few months preparing for its flyby of a small Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially 2014 MU69). The craft is expected to pass by Ultima Thule during the New Year's holiday.
United States

Suicide Rates Are Up 30 Percent Since 1999, CDC Says (nbcnews.com) 477

New submitter Austerity Empowers writes: Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. NBC News: "Suicide rates are up by 30 percent across the nation since 1999, federal health officials reported Thursday. And only about half the people who died by suicide had a known mental health condition, even though depression had been thought to be the major cause of suicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. While many cases of mental illness may have been diagnosed, the CDC also noted that relationship stress, financial troubles and substance abuse were contributing to the trends."
Earth

Sucking CO2 From Air Is Cheaper Than Scientists Thought (technologyreview.com) 383

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: While avoiding the worst dangers of climate change will likely require sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky, prominent scientists have long dismissed such technologies as far too expensive. But a detailed new analysis published today in the journal Joule finds that direct air capture may be practical after all. The study concludes it would cost between $94 and $232 per ton of captured carbon dioxide, if existing technologies were implemented on a commercial scale. One earlier estimate, published in Proceedings of the National Academies, put that figure at more than $1,000 (though the calculations were made on what's known as an avoided-cost basis, which would add about 10 percent to the new study's figures). Crucially, the lowest-cost design, optimized to produce and sell alternative fuels made from the captured carbon dioxide, could already be profitable with existing public policies in certain markets. The higher cost estimates are for plants that would deliver compressed carbon dioxide for permanent underground storage. David Keith, a Harvard physics professor and lead author of the paper, is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, "a Calgary-based startup that has spent the last nine years designing, refining, and testing a direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish, B.C.," reports MIT. "Carbon Engineering plans to combine the carbon captured at its plants with hydrogen to produce carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, a process the pilot facility has already been performing." The company has secured $30 million, but is seeking additional funds to build a larger facility that will begin selling fuels. CNBC notes that Carbon Engineering is owned by several private investors, including Bill Gates.
Mars

NASA Mars Rover Finds Organic Matter in Ancient Lake Bed (theguardian.com) 148

NASA's veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago. From a report: The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it. Researchers cannot tell how the organic material formed and so leave open the crucial question: are the compounds remnants of past organisms; the product of chemical reactions with rocks; or were they brought to Mars in comets or other falling debris that slammed into the surface? All look the same in the tests performed. But whatever the ultimate source of the material, if microbial life did find a foothold on Mars, the presence of organics meant it would not have gone hungry. "We know that on Earth microorganisms eat all sorts of organics. It's a valuable food source for them," said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The Curiosity rover also discovered that methane on the red planet changes with the seasons. The Verge: Where the methane is coming from is still a mystery, but scientists have some ideas, including that microbes may be the source of the gas. Researchers at NASA and other US universities analyzed five years' worth of methane measurements Curiosity took at Gale Crater, where the rover landed in 2012. Curiosity detected background levels of methane of about 0.4 parts per billion, which is a tiny amount. (In comparison, Earth's atmosphere has about 1,800 parts per billion of methane.) Those levels of methane, however, were found to range from 0.2 to about 0.7 parts per billion, with concentrations peaking near the end of the summer in the northern hemisphere, according to a study published today in Science. This seasonal cycle repeated through time and could come from an underground reservoir of methane, the study says. Whether that reservoir is a sign that there is or was life on Mars, however, is impossible to say for now.
Science

Why a Group of Physicists Watched a Clock Tick For 14 Years Straight (wired.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: If you drop your phone today and it falls to the ground, you can be fairly certain that if it slips from your grip again tomorrow (butterfingers!), it won't suddenly soar into the sky. That's thanks to one of the basic ideas in Einstein's theory of general relativity, which posits that the laws of physics don't change over space and time. But to actually know that for a fact, you'd have to perform the same task over and over again, in as many locations as possible, and watch closely for any change in outcome. That's why, as Sophia Chen reports, a group of physicists has spent the past 14 years -- or 450 million seconds -- watching clocks tick.

Their results would have made Einstein heave a sigh of relief. The physicists were observing the 12 atomic clocks to see whether their subatomic particles' behavior changed over those 14 years -- but it was completely consistent, even as the clocks moved with the Earth around the sun. Now, these findings don't necessarily mean that the laws of physics are absolutely not changing across time and space. They only definitively show that the laws of physics stayed constant over the 14 years of the experiment. "Still, they can now say this with five times more certainty than they could a decade ago," Chen writes. "And if it holds true for Earth's location in the universe, it's not too much of a leap to imagine it's true elsewhere."

Space

Majority of Americans Believe It Is Essential That the US Remain a Global Leader in Space (pewinternet.org) 286

Pew Research: Sixty years after the founding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), most Americans believe the United States should be at the forefront of global leadership in space exploration. Majorities say the International Space Station has been a good investment for the country and that, on balance, NASA is still vital to the future of U.S. space exploration even as private space companies emerge as increasingly important players. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (72%) say it is essential for the U.S. to continue to be a world leader in space exploration, and eight-in-ten (80%) say the space station has been a good investment for the country, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted March 27-April 9, 2018. These survey results come at a time when NASA finds itself in a much different world from the one that existed when the Apollo astronauts first set foot on the moon nearly half a century ago. The Cold War space race has receded into history, but other countries (including China, Japan and India) have emerged as significant international players in space exploration. Another finding in the report: Most Americans would like NASA to focus on Earth, instead of Mars.
Science

Hurricanes Are Moving More Slowly, Which Means More Damage (npr.org) 96

An anonymous reader shares a report: Hurricanes are moving more slowly over both land and water, and that's bad news for communities in their path. In the past 70 years, tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent, and in some regions of the world, the change has been even more significant, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. That means storms are spending more time hanging out, battering buildings with wind and dropping more rain. "The slowdown over land is what's really going to effect people," says James Kossin, the author of the study and a tropical cyclone specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He points to Hurricane Harvey's effect on Houston as an example of what slower storms can mean for cities. "Hurricane Harvey last year was a real outlier in terms of the amount of rain it dropped," he explains. "And the amount of rain it dropped was due, almost entirely, to the fact that it moved so slowly."
Science

Judge Orders EPA To Produce Science Behind Pruitt's Climate Claims (scientificamerican.com) 428

EPA must produce the opposing body of science Administrator Scott Pruitt has relied upon to claim that humans are not the primary drivers of global warming, a federal judge has ruled. From a report: The EPA boss has so far resisted attempts to show the science backing up his claims. His critics say such evidence doesn't exist, even as Pruitt has called for greater science transparency at the agency. Now, a court case may compel him to produce research that attempts to contradict the mountain of peer-reviewed studies collected by the world's top science agencies over decades that show humans are warming the planet at an unprecedented pace through the burning of fossil fuels. Not long after he took over as EPA administrator, Pruitt appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box," where he was asked about carbon dioxide and climate change. He said, "I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." The next day, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the studies Pruitt used to make his claims. Specifically, the group requested "EPA documents that support the conclusion that human activity is not the largest factor driving global climate change." On Friday, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Beryl Howell, ordered the agency to comply.
Earth

An Average Earth Day Used To Be Less Than 19 Hours Long (theguardian.com) 113

Scientists have determined that some 1.4 billion years ago, an Earth day -- that is, a full rotation around its axis -- took 18 hours and 41 minutes, rather than the familiar 24 hours. The Guardian reports: According to fresh calculations, a day on Earth was a full five hours and fifteen minutes shorter a billion or so years ago, well before complex life spread around the planet. Scientists used a combination of astronomical theory and geochemical signatures buried in ancient rocks to show that 1.4bn years ago the Earth turned a full revolution on its axis every 18 hours and 41 minutes. The number means that, on average, the length of the day on Earth has grown by approximately one 74 thousandth of a second per year since Precambrian times, a trend that is expected to continue for millions, if not billions, of years more.
Science

Scientists May Have Discovered a New Fundamental Particle: Sterile Neutrino (theregister.co.uk) 94

Artem Tashkinov writes: It needs more sigmas, but Fermilab boffins in America are carefully speculating that they may have seen evidence of a new fundamental particle: the sterile neutrino. The suggestion follows tests conducted by the MiniBooNE (Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment) instrument, located near Chicago. Its mission is to detect neutrino mass through their oscillations. In the Standard Model of physics, neutrinos, like all particles, are initially assumed to be massless, but some observations, like neutrino oscillation, suggest there's mass there. The experiment that possibly detected sterile neutrinos collected 15 years of data from its commissioning in 2002, and the results have only now reached pre-press outlet arXiv.

Over 15 years, MiniBooNE detected a few hundred more electron neutrinos than were predicted in Standard Model theory. The extra particles suggests there is a fourth, heavier flavor. The findings bring the MiniBooNE team tantalizingly close to a "result" -- it's a 4.8 sigma result, when "discovery" demands 5 sigma.

NASA

NASA Extends Juno Jupiter Mission By Three Years (gizmodo.com) 21

The Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter was supposed to end its mission by crashing into the gas giant next month. Not anymore! From a report: It turns out the scientific mission will be extended through at least 2021 so it can meet its goals, as Business Insider first reported yesterday. This will delay the probe's dramatic demise for at least a few years. "NASA has approved Juno to continue through 2022 to finish all of our originally planned science," Scott Bolton, Juno's principle investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, told Gizmodo in an email. "The orbits are longer than planned, and that is why Juno needs more time to gather our planned scientific measurements." Juno departed Earth for Jupiter in 2011 and arrived at the gas giant on July 4, 2016. Since then, it's sent back a host of valuable data that has revealed new insights into Jupiter, like the depth of the red spot, three-dimensional views of the gas below its surface, and how its auroras work.
Moon

SpaceX Delays Plans To Send Space Tourists To Circle Moon (cnet.com) 124

SpaceX will reportedly no longer be sending a pair of space tourists to circle the moon this year. The flight was scheduled for late 2018, but has been delayed, according to The Wall Street Journal. The reason for the delay is unclear. CNET reports: The flight was announced in February 2017, with SpaceX saying that two unidentified private citizens had put down a "significant deposit" for the trip and that other flight teams had expressed interest in taking a similar journey. The plan was for the tourists to fly on a Dragon Crew spacecraft launched from Earth by a Falcon Heavy rocket.

"SpaceX is still planning to fly private individuals on a trip around the moon and there is growing interest from many customers," company spokesman James Gleeson wrote in a statement. "Private spaceflight missions, including a trip around the moon, present an opportunity for humans to return to deep space and to travel faster and farther into the solar system than any before them, which is of course an important milestone as we work toward our ultimate goal to help make humanity multi-planetary."

Medicine

Doctors Hail World First as Woman's Advanced Breast Cancer is Eradicated (theguardian.com) 162

A woman with advanced breast cancer which had spread around her body has been completely cleared of the disease by a groundbreaking therapy that harnessed the power of her immune system to fight the tumours. From a report: It is the first time that a patient with late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated by a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient's own immune cells to find and destroy cancer cells that have formed in the body. Judy Perkins, an engineer from Florida, was 49 when she was selected for the radical new therapy after several rounds of routine chemotherapy failed to stop a tumour in her right breast from growing and spreading to her liver and other areas. At the time, she was given three years to live. Doctors who cared for the woman at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland said Perkins's response had been "remarkable": the therapy wiped out cancer cells so effectively that she has now been free of the disease for two years. "My condition deteriorated a lot towards the end, and I had a tumour pressing on a nerve, which meant I spent my time trying not to move at all to avoid pain shooting down my arm. I had given up fighting," Perkins said. "After the treatment dissolved most of my tumours, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike."
Power

Russian Scientists Upgrade Nuclear Battery Design To Increase Power Output (sciencealert.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: A team of Russian researchers have put a new spin on technology that uses the beta decay of a radioactive element to create differences in voltage. The devices are made of stacks of isotope of nickel-63 sandwiched between a pair of special semiconducting diodes called a Schottky barrier. This barrier keeps a current headed one way, a feature often used to turn alternating currents into direct ones. Finding that the optimal thickness of each layer was just 2 micrometers, the researchers were able to maximize the voltage produced by every gram of isotope.

Nickel-63 has a half-life of just over 100 years, which in an optimized system like this adds up to 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram: ten times the specific energy of your typical electrochemical cell. It's a significant step up from previous nickel-63 betavoltaic devices, and while it isn't quite enough to power your smart phone, it does bring it into a realm of being useful for a wide variety of tasks.

Space

How Microbes Survive Clean Rooms and Contaminate Spacecraft (phys.org) 24

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason the contamination persists. To figure out how the spacecraft microbiome survives in the cleanroom facilities, the research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities. They found that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly. The work showed that cultures grew on ethyl alcohol as a sole carbon source while displaying reasonable tolerances towards oxidative stress. This is important since oxidative stress is associated with desiccating and high radiation environments similar to Mars. The tested strains were also able to biodegrade isopropyl alcohol and Kleenol 30, two other cleaning agents commonly used, with these products potentially serving as energy sources for the microbiome.
NASA

NASA Wants 40 Social Media Users To Attend SpaceX's Next Launch (nasa.gov) 23

An anonymous reader quotes NASA.gov: Social media users are invited to register to attend the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch, currently targeted for late June, will be the next commercial cargo resupply services mission to the International Space Station... A maximum of 40 social media users will be selected to attend this two-day event, and will be given access similar to news media.
Besides viewing and photographing the launch, the 40 selected participants will also:
  • Tour NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center
  • Speak with representatives from NASA and SpaceX
  • Speak with researchers about investigations heading to the orbiting microgravity laboratory
  • Meet fellow space enthusiasts who are active on social media

Applications must be received by Wednesday at noon EDT.


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