As Russia Stalks US Satellites, a Space Arms Race May Be Heating Up

11 hours 22 minutes ago
Russia "is now challenging the United States' long-standing supremacy in space and working to exploit the U.S. military's dependence on space systems for communications, navigation, intelligence, and targeting." That's the argument made in The Bulletin by a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer who writes about technology and military strategy, Cold War history, and European security affairs (in an article shared by Lasrick). Moscow is developing counter-space weapons as a part of its overall information warfare strategy. For example, Russia just tested an anti-satellite missile system designed to destroy satellites in low earth orbit. Moreover, military leaders in Russia view U.S. satellites as the key enablers of America's ability to execute rapid, agile, and global military operations; they are intent on echoing this success and modernizing their own military satellites to more effectively support Russian forces. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of countries with space programs has markedly increased. Many of them are actively developing space weapons. China, for example, has an operational ground-launched anti-satellite system, according to the U.S. intelligence community. India successfully tested its own space weapon in 2019. France announced that it will launch a series of armed satellites. Even Iran is believed to be able to develop a rudimentary anti-satellite weapon in the near term... Space systems are essential for warfighting on Earth and the large growth in the number of countries fielding space weapons means the likelihood that outer space will be transformed into a battlefield has increased... Russia is the only country, however, that is reportedly approaching U.S. satellites in an aggressive manner... Moscow's destabilizing behavior could prompt the United States to take a more aggressive posture in space in the future... Russia has been taking advantage of the lack of international consensus on what constitutes acceptable behavior in space... It seems clear that Russia is likely testing how the United States and its allies might react to aggressive space behaviors and is gaining important insights into American national security space capabilities... In 2019, former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said that at some point, the United States needs the ability to "hit back." Russia's destabilizing actions in space could, therefore, fuel a dangerous arms race in space.

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EditorDavid

America's CDC and 11 States Erroneously Conflated Two Kinds of Coronavirus Tests

1 day ago
America's Center for Disease Control "is conflating viral and antibody tests..." writes the Atlantic, "distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic." Thelasko shared their report: We've learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus. The upshot is that the government's disease-fighting agency is overstating the country's ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19... The widespread use of the practice means that it remains difficult to know exactly how much the country's ability to test people who are actively sick with COVID-19 has improved. "You've got to be kidding me," Ashish Jha, the K. T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told us when we described what the CDC was doing. "How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess...." By combining the two types of results, the CDC has made them both "uninterpretable," he said... [T]he portion of tests coming back positive has plummeted, from a seven-day average of 10 percent at the month's start to 6 percent on Wednesday. "The numbers have outstripped what I was expecting," Jha said. "My sense is people are really surprised that we've moved as much as we have in such a short time period. I think we all expected a move and we all expected improvement, but the pace and size of that improvement has been a big surprise." The intermingling of viral and antibody tests suggests that some of those gains might be illusory. "The CDC is not alone in its errors," notes a Reason article shared by schwit1. "Several states have been blending their test results as well, rendering it difficult to determine the local impact of the virus." But the CDC's role as the officially designated first line of defense makes the agency's failure far more significant. Without clear, reliable, and accurate reporting from the CDC, it becomes nearly impossible to take stock of the pandemic's damage. The virus has upended American life in ways that make it unusually difficult to predict the future. But thanks to the CDC, we have a problem that is even worse: No only do we not know what is going to happen, but we don't know what is happening.

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EditorDavid

Lockdown-Ignoring Sweden Now Has Europe's Highest Per-Capita Death Rate

1 day 2 hours ago
Sweden's death rate per million (376) "is far in advance of Norway's (44), Denmark's (96) and Finland's (55) — countries with similar welfare systems and demographics, but which imposed strict lockdowns..." reports the Guardian, "raising concerns that the country's light-touch approach to the coronavirus may not be helping it build up broad immunity." "According to the scientific online publication Ourworldindata.com, Covid-19 deaths in Sweden were the highest in Europe per capita in a rolling seven-day average between 12 and 19 May. The country's 6.25 deaths per million inhabitants a day was just above the UK's 5.75." Slashdot reader AleRunner writes: Immunity levels in Sweden, which were expected to reach 33% by the start of May have been measured at only 7.3%, suggesting that Sweden's lighter lockdown may continue indefinitely whilst other countries begin to revive their economies. Writing about new Swedish antibody results in the Guardian Jon Henley goes on to report that other European countries like Finland are already considering blocking travel from Sweden which may increase Sweden's long term isolation. We have discussed before whether Sweden, which locked down earlier than most but with fewer restrictions could be a model for other countries. As it is, now, the country is looking more like a warning to the rest of the world. The Guardian concludes that the Swedish government's decision to avoid a strict lockdown "is thought unlikely to spare the Swedish economy. Although retail and entertainment spending has not collapsed quite as dramatically as elsewhere, analysts say the country will probably not reap any long-term economic benefit."

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EditorDavid

New Imperial College Research Estimates Coronavirus Still Spreading Uncontrolled in 24 US States

1 day 5 hours ago
New research from Imperial College London suggests the coronavirus "may still be spreading at epidemic rates" in 24 different states in America, reports the Washington Post: Some states have had little viral spread or "crushed the curve" to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus. The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread. "There's evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country," said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.... The Imperial College researchers found in 24 states, the model shows a reproduction number over 1 [suggesting the virus is not waning]. Texas tops the list, followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Missouri, Delaware, South Carolina, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Maryland.... This has become a geographically complex pandemic, one that will evolve, especially as people increase their movements in coming weeks. Laws and health regulations vary from state to state, county to county and city to city. There are communities where wearing facial coverings is culturally the norm, while in other places it is rejected on grounds of personal liberty or as refutation of the consensus view of the hazards posed by the virus... Experts in Tennessee are also concerned about people from other states beginning to flock to Nashville and Memphis on summer vacations. If a surge happens, said David Aronoff, director of the Vanderbilt University infectious disease division, "the tricky part will be putting the toothpaste back in the tube" by shutting down again. In addition to "behavioural precautions," the researchers recommend rapid testing and contact tracing. But If there's no change in the relationship between mobility and transmission, their report states bluntly that "We predict that deaths over the next two-month period will exceed current cumulative deaths by greater than two-fold... "We predict that increased mobility following relaxation of social distancing will lead to resurgence of transmission, keeping all else constant."

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EditorDavid

Study of 96,000 Covid-19 Patients Finds Hydroxychloroquine Increased Their Risk of Dying

1 day 7 hours ago
"The drug US President Donald Trump said he was taking to ward off Covid-19 actually increases the risk of patients with the disease dying from it," reports the BBC, citing a new study published Friday in the Lancet. "The study said there were no benefits to treating patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine..." Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus. The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine — or a related form chloroquine — either alone or with an antibiotic. The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group. The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate. The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials. The BBC also reports that a separate trial involving over 40,000 healthcare workers around the world is now testing whether hydroxychloroquine could prevent infection.

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EditorDavid

Breathing Habits Are Related To Physical and Mental Health

1 day 9 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal, written by James Nestor: Breathing is a missing pillar of health, and our attention to it is long overdue. Most of us misunderstand breathing. We see it as passive, something that we just do. Breathe, live; stop breathing, die. But breathing is not that simple and binary. How we breathe matters, too. Inside the breath you just took, there are more molecules of air than there are grains of sand on all the world's beaches. We each inhale and exhale some 30 pounds of these molecules every day -- far more than we eat or drink. The way that we take in that air and expel it is as important as what we eat, how much we exercise and the genes we've inherited. This idea may sound nuts, I realize. It certainly sounded that way to me when I first heard it several years ago while interviewing neurologists, rhinologists and pulmonologists at Stanford, Harvard and other institutions. What they'd found is that breathing habits were directly related to physical and mental health. Today, doctors who study breathing say that the vast majority of Americans do it inadequately. [...] But it's not all bad news. Unlike problems with other parts of the body, such as the liver or kidneys, we can improve the airways in our too-small mouths and reverse the entropy in our lungs at any age. We can do this by breathing properly. [...] [T]he first step in healthy breathing: extending breaths to make them a little deeper, a little longer. Try it. For the next several minutes, inhale gently through your nose to a count of about five and then exhale, again through your nose, at the same rate or a little more slowly if you can. This works out to about six breaths a minute. When we breathe like this we can better protect the lungs from irritation and infection while boosting circulation to the brain and body. Stress on the heart relaxes; the respiratory and nervous systems enter a state of coherence where everything functions at peak efficiency. Just a few minutes of inhaling and exhaling at this pace can drop blood pressure by 10, even 15 points. [...] [T]he second step in healthy breathing: Breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing not only helps with snoring and some mild cases of sleep apnea, it also can allow us to absorb around 18% more oxygen than breathing through our mouths. It reduces the risk of dental cavities and respiratory problems and likely boosts sexual performance. The list goes on.

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BeauHD

Bumblebees' 'Clever Trick' Fools Plants Into Flowering

1 day 12 hours ago
Scientists found that when deprived of pollen, bumblebees will nibble on the leaves of flowerless plants to trick them into flowering, sometimes up to 30 days earlier than normal. The BBC reports: Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say they have struggled to replicate the bees' trick in the laboratory. Scientists in Switzerland found that when the bees were deprived of pollen, they started to nibble on the leaves of plants that hadn't yet flowered. The bees used their proboscises and mandibles (mouthparts) to cut distinctively-shaped holes in the leaves. But the creatures didn't eat the material or use it in their nests. The damaged plants responded by blooming earlier than normal - in some cases up to 30 days ahead of schedule. When the researchers tried to emulate the damage done to the plants by the bumblebees they weren't able to achieve the same results. The bee-damaged plants flowered 30 days earlier than undamaged plants and 25 days earlier than ones damaged by the scientists. The research team believes there may be something else going on here apart from nibbles. [...] The researchers say that when pollen is available the bees don't damage plants. They've also found this behavior is in wild bees. However the team are keeping an open mind on whether the plants might be the ones in the driving seat. It could be that some plants have evolved a strategy to push out their flowers when they recognize the bee doing damage to their leaves.

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BeauHD

ALMA Discovers Massive Rotating Disk In Early Universe

1 day 15 hours ago
Iwastheone shares a report from Phys.Org: In our 13.8 billion-year-old universe, most galaxies like our Milky Way form gradually, reaching their large mass relatively late. But a new discovery made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) of a massive rotating disk galaxy, seen when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, challenges the traditional models of galaxy formation. Galaxy DLA0817g, nicknamed the Wolfe Disk after the late astronomer Arthur M. Wolfe, is the most distant rotating disk galaxy ever observed. The unparalleled power of ALMA made it possible to see this galaxy spinning at 170 miles (272 kilometers) per second, similar to our Milky Way. The discovery of the Wolfe Disk provides a challenge for many galaxy formation simulations, which predict that massive galaxies at this point in the evolution of the cosmos grew through many mergers of smaller galaxies and hot clumps of gas. In most galaxy formation scenarios, galaxies only start to show a well-formed disk around 6 billion years after the Big Bang. The fact that the astronomers found such a disk galaxy when the universe was only ten percent of its current age, indicates that other growth processes must have dominated. "We think the Wolfe Disk has grown primarily through the steady accretion of cold gas," said J. Xavier Prochaska, of the University of California, Santa Cruz and coauthor of the paper. "Still, one of the questions that remains is how to assemble such a large gas mass while maintaining a relatively stable, rotating disk." "The star formation rate in the Wolfe Disk is at least ten times higher than in our own galaxy," adds Prochaska. "It must be one of the most productive disk galaxies in the early universe." The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

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BeauHD

It's Official: SpaceX Is a 'Go' To Launch NASA Astronauts On Crew Dragon Spaceship

1 day 19 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: No showstoppers were found during a crucial flight readiness review (FRR) for SpaceX's Demo-2 mission, keeping the company's first-ever crewed flight on track for a May 27 liftoff, NASA officials announced today (May 22). "The Flight Readiness Review has concluded, and NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission is cleared to proceed toward liftoff on the first crewed flight of the agency's Commercial Crew Program," NASA officials wrote in an update today. Demo-2 will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The mission will be the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from American soil since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in July 2011. Ever since then, the space agency has relied completely on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the orbiting lab. The FRR began yesterday (May 21) at KSC and stretched into this afternoon. During the meeting, NASA, ISS and SpaceX managers discussed in detail "the readiness of the Crew Dragon and systems for the Demo-2 mission; the readiness of the International Space Station Program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness," NASA officials wrote in an update yesterday. And everything went very well, NASA officials said. "It was an excellent review," NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk said during a teleconference with reporters today. "There are no significant open issues, I am happy to report." There are still some boxes to tick before Demo-2 can get off the ground. "For example, this afternoon, SpaceX will conduct a 'static fire' of the Falcon 9 that will launch the mission, testing out its first-stage engines while the rocket remains tethered to the ground," reports Space.com. "And tomorrow (May 23), the teams will hold a 'dry dress' exercise, during which Behnken and Hurley will suit up and the teams will run through many of the procedures that will occur on launch day." "Data from these two tests, as well as other information, will then be analyzed in detail on Monday (May 25) during a final launch readiness review."

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BeauHD

Scientists Find Brain Center That 'Profoundly' Shuts Down Pain

1 day 20 hours ago
A research team from Duke University has found a small area of the brain in mice that can profoundly shut down pain. "It's located in an area where few people would have thought to look for an anti-pain center, the amygdala, which is often considered the home of negative emotions and responses, like the fight or flight response and general anxiety," reports ScienceDaily. From the report: The researchers found that general anesthesia also activates a specific subset of inhibitory neurons in the central amygdala, which they have called the CeAga neurons (CeA stands for central amygdala; ga indicates activation by general anesthesia). Mice have a relatively larger central amygdala than humans, but [senior author Fan Wang, the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of neurobiology in the School of Medicine] said she had no reason to think we have a different system for controlling pain. Using technologies that Wang's lab has pioneered to track the paths of activated neurons in mice, the team found the CeAga was connected to many different areas of the brain, "which was a surprise," Wang said. By giving mice a mild pain stimulus, the researchers could map all of the pain-activated brain regions. They discovered that at least 16 brain centers known to process the sensory or emotional aspects of pain were receiving inhibitory input from the CeAga. Using a technology called optogenetics, which uses light to activate a small population of cells in the brain, the researchers found they could turn off the self-caring behaviors a mouse exhibits when it feels uncomfortable by activating the CeAga neurons. Paw-licking or face-wiping behaviors were "completely abolished" the moment the light was switched on to activate the anti-pain center. When the scientists dampened the activity of these CeAga neurons, the mice responded as if a temporary insult had become intense or painful again. They also found that low-dose ketamine, an anesthetic drug that allows sensation but blocks pain, activated the CeAga center and wouldn't work without it. Now the researchers are going to look for drugs that can activate only these cells to suppress pain as potential future pain killers, Wang said. The study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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BeauHD

Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Staying Closed For Too Long Could Cause 'Irreparable Damage'

1 day 22 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Stay-at-home orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus could end up causing "irreparable damage" if imposed for too long, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Friday. "I don't want people to think that any of us feel that staying locked down for a prolonged period of time is the way to go," Fauci said during an interview with CNBC's Meg Tirrell on "Halftime Report." He said the U.S. had to institute severe measures because Covid-19 cases were exploding then. "But now is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is, to begin to seriously look at reopening the economy, reopening the country to try to get back to some degree of normal." However, Fauci also cautioned states against reducing social distancing measures too quickly, adding they must take "very significant precautions." "In general, I think most of the country is doing it in a prudent way," he said. "There are obviously some situations where people might be jumping over that. I just say please proceed with caution if you're going to do that." In regard to a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Fauci told NPR that it remains "conceivable" that a vaccine for the deadly pathogen could be available by the end of the year.

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BeauHD

Social Distancing Is Not Enough

2 days 6 hours ago
We will need a comprehensive strategy to reduce the sort of interactions that can lead to more infections. The Atlantic: COVID-19 has mounted a sustained attack on public life, especially indoor life. Many of the largest super-spreader events took place inside -- at a church in South Korea, an auditorium in France, a conference in Massachusetts. The danger of the indoors is more than anecdotal. A Hong Kong paper awaiting peer review [PDF] found that of 7,324 documented cases in China, only one outbreak occurred outside -- during a conversation among several men in a small village. The risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than in open-air environments, according to another study [PDF] from researchers in Japan. Appropriately, just about every public indoor space in America has been shut down or, in the case of essential businesses such as grocers, adapted for social-distancing restrictions. These closures have been economically ruinous, transforming large swaths of urban and suburban life into a morbid line of darkened windows. Today, states are emerging from the lockdown phase of the crisis and entering a queasy period of reopening. But offices, schools, stores, theaters, restaurants, bars, gyms, fitness centers, and museums will have no semblance of normalcy until we learn how to be safe -- and feel safe -- inside. To open these spaces, we must be guided by science and expertise. Fortunately for us, researchers are discovering the secrets of how COVID-19 spreads with a combination of clever modeling and detective work. Before we review the relevant studies and draw out lessons for the future of the great indoors, a brief word of humility. Our understanding of this disease is dynamic. Today's conventional wisdom could be tomorrow's busted myth. Think of these studies not as gospels, but as clues in a gradually unraveling mystery.

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msmash

US Secures 300 Million Doses, Almost a Third, of Potential AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

2 days 15 hours ago
schwit1 shares a report from Financial Post: The United States has secured almost a third of the first one billion doses planned for AstraZeneca's experimental COVID-19 vaccine by pledging up to $1.2 billion, as world powers scramble for medicines to get their economies back to work. While not proven to be effective against the coronavirus, vaccines are seen by world leaders as the only real way to restart their stalled economies, and even to get an edge over global competitors. The U.S. Department of Health agreed to provide up to $1.2 billion to accelerate AstraZeneca's vaccine development and secure 300 million doses for the United States. "This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed's work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021," U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said. The vaccine, previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now as AZD1222, was developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to British drugmaker AstraZeneca. Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines unclear. The U.S. deal allows a late-stage -- Phase III -- clinical trial of the vaccine with 30,000 people in the United States.

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BeauHD

How Do Astronauts Escape When a Space Launch Goes Wrong?

2 days 22 hours ago
On May 27, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are expected to become the first humans to ride a Dragon. The two astronauts will catch a ride to the International Space Station in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule as part of the Demo-2 mission, the final test before NASA officially certifies the vehicle for human spaceflight. It will be the first time in nine years that NASA astronauts have launched to space from the US -- and the only time they've ever flown on a commercial rocket. Engineers have spent years planning for what happens if things go awry. Here's a look at what happens if for some unfortunate reason, something goes wrong in space: There are several events that might cause Behnken and Hurley to abort a mission once they're already in orbit. These range from depressurization to a cabin fire, both of which have occurred on previous crewed missions. In fact, depressurization was the cause of the only deaths known to have occurred in space. In 1971, three cosmonauts returning from a mission to the Salyut 1 space station were killed after a pressure valve in the capsule failed and the cabin turned into a vacuum within seconds. The Crew Dragon has multiple lines of defense against this kind of disaster. In the event of a small leak caused by a faulty component or impact from space debris, the capsule can pump more oxygen and nitrogen into the cabin to maintain pressure until the crew either returns to Earth or arrives at the space station. But if the breach is too large to plug with more gas, Behnken and Hurley's flight suits can be pressurized and fed oxygen, effectively turning the suits into single-occupant spacecraft. Depending on where they're at in the mission, it's possible they could continue on to the space station even if the cabin is a total vacuum. "The suit is kind of like an escape system, and is designed to be used only if you're having a very bad day," says Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who also spent several years as the director of SpaceX's crew operations. "It's nice to know it's there, but you hope you never have to use it for its intended purpose." If NASA decides to abort a mission once Behnken and Hurley are in space, they'll trigger the capsule to perform a deorbit burn that pushes it back into the atmosphere. At that point, drag will start to take effect and pull the spacecraft back toward terra firma. If it's a dire situation, NASA might choose to deorbit the capsule immediately, even if it means landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise, mission control will take the time to evaluate the best emergency landing location based on weather and the location of rescue teams. Behnken and Hurley have enough food, water, and oxygen for four days on orbit, so there's no reason to rush unless the situation demands it. "More often than not, when you feel that you're rushed, you need to slow down to avoid making a mistake and driving yourself into a difficult situation," Scoville says.

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msmash

Astronomers Spot Potential First Evidence of New Planet Being Born

3 days 2 hours ago
Astronomers believe they may have found the first direct evidence of a new planet being born. A dense disc of dust and gas has been spotted surrounding a young star called AB Aurigae, about 520 light years away from Earth. From a report: Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), located in Chile, the researchers observed a spiral structure with a "twist" near the centre, which suggests a new world may be in the process of forming. The swirling disc was one of the telltale signs of the star system being born in the constellation of Auriga, the scientists said. Dr Anthony Boccaletti, who led the study from the Observatoire de Paris at the PSL University, in France, said: "Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form." He added: "We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form." Until now astronomers had been unable to take clear images of young discs to see these twists.

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msmash

Cold War Satellites Inadvertently Tracked Species Declines

3 days 15 hours ago
sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit in 1957, the United States responded with its own spy satellites. The espionage program, known as Corona, sought to locate Soviet missile sites, but its Google Earth-like photography captured something unintended: snapshots of animals and their habitats frozen in time. Now, by comparing these images with modern data, scientists have found a way to track the decline of biodiversity in regions that lack historic records. The researchers tested the approach on bobak marmot (Marmota bobak) populations in the grassland region of northern Kazakhstan. There, Soviets converted millions of hectares of natural habitat into cropland in the 1960s. The scientists searched the satellites' black and white film images on a U.S. Geological Survey database for signs of the squirrel-like animal's burrows. They identified more than 5,000 historic marmot homes and compared them with contemporary digital images of the region, mapping more than 12,000 marmot burrows in all. About eight generations of marmots occupied the same burrows in the study area over more than 50 years, even when their habitats underwent major changes, the team reports in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Overall, the researchers estimate the number of marmot burrows dropped by 14% since the '60s. But the number of burrows in some of the oldest fields -- those persistently disturbed by humans plowing grassland to plant wheat -- plunged by much more -- about 60%.

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BeauHD

Carlsberg and Coca-Cola Back Pioneering Project To Make Plant-Based Bottles

3 days 19 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project that hopes to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels. The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic. Avantium's chief executive, Tom van Aken, says he hopes to greenlight a major investment in the world-leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite the coronavirus lockdown, is set to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer. The project has the backing of Coca-Cola and Danone, which hope to secure the future of their bottled products by tackling the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution and a reliance on fossil fuels. [...] Avantium's plant plastic is designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonate drinks. Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, said Van Aken. The bio-refinery plans to break down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical structures that can then be rearranged to form a new plant-based plastic -- which could appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.

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BeauHD

Meet the First NASA Astronauts SpaceX Will Launch To Orbit

4 days ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are about to star in the biggest spaceflight event of the decade: launching on the inaugural flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. For years, they've anticipated this moment, picturing throngs of people lined up on Florida's beaches to watch them ascend into the sky. Now, their launch will likely look very different, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the nation. That electric atmosphere they expected will mostly be absent for this monumental flight as NASA has urged spectators to watch the launch from home -- and it's what the two astronauts want, too. Even though the atmosphere will be different, Hurley and Behnken, both longtime colleagues and friends, are still set to make history together when they board the Crew Dragon on May 27th. They'll be the first passengers that SpaceX has ever launched into space, and they'll also be the first people to launch to orbit from the United States since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. All of NASA's astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets out of Kazakhstan for nearly the last decade. But thanks to a partnership with NASA, SpaceX is set to start launching the agency's astronauts from Florida once again with the Crew Dragon, beginning with Behnken and Hurley. "An invaluable part of their training is the fact that Behnken and Hurley have been good friends since they were first selected to be astronauts in 2000," adds The Verge. "In fact, they became so close that they were in each other's weddings when they each married fellow astronauts from that same class. They claim that their friendship provides a certain level of trust that only comes from years of knowing one another." "We've worked together so long that there's a part of the training that we don't have to worry about," Behnken told The Verge last year, adding, "It is important for us. I already know what Doug's responses are going to be in a lot of different situations. I know if he's ahead or behind on whatever we're working on, in the same way that he knows that about me. That makes it a lot easier. Those aren't extra words I need to put into the communication. He can just glance at me and know what my status is."

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BeauHD

The Public Do Not Understand Logarithmic Graphs Used To Portray COVID-19

4 days 1 hour ago
Mass media routinely portray information about COVID-19 deaths on logarithmic graphs. But do their readers understand them? Alessandro Romano, Chiara Sotis, Goran Dominioni, and Sebastian Guidi carried out an experiment which suggests that they don't. From a report: The fact that the framing of information can dramatically alter how we react to it will hardly surprise any reader of this blog. Incidentally, the canonical example of framing effects involves an epidemic: a disease that kills 200 out of 600 people is considered worse than one in which 400 people survive. Whereas this imaginary epidemic was just a thought experiment, an actual global pandemic turns out to be an unfortunate laboratory for framing effects. In a recent experiment, we show how framing crucially affects people's responses to one of the most important building blocks of the COVID-19 informational puzzle: the number of deaths. We show that the logarithmic scale graphs that the media routinely use to display this information are poorly understood by the public and affect people's attitudes and policy preferences towards the pandemic. This finding has important implications because during a pandemic, even more than usually, the public depends on the media to convey understandable information in order to make informed decisions regarding health-protective behaviours. Many media outlets portray information about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths using a logarithmic scale graph. At first sight, this seems sensible. In fact, many of them defend their decision by showing how much better these charts are in conveying information about the exponential nature of the contagion. For history lovers, the popular economist Irving Fisher also believed this, which led him to strongly advocate for their use in 1917 (right before the Spanish Flu rendered them tragically relevant). Fisher was ecstatic about this scale: "When one is once accustomed to it, it never misleads." It turns out, however, that even specialized scientists don't get used to it. Not surprisingly, neither does the general public. We conducted a between-subjects experiment to test whether people had a better understanding of graphs in a logarithmic or in a linear scale, and whether the scale in which the chart is shown affects their level of worry and their policy preferences. Half of our n=2000 sample of US residents was shown the progression of COVID-19 related deaths in the US at the time of the survey plotted on a logarithmic scale. The other half received exactly the same information -- this time plotted on a good old linear scale. [...]

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msmash

Recovered COVID-19 Patients Test Positive But Not Infectious, Data Finds

4 days 9 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: People who recover from COVID-19 but test positive for the virus again days or weeks later are not shedding viral particles and are not infectious, according to data released Tuesday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The so-called "re-positive" cases have raised fears that an infection with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could "reactivate" in recovered patients or that recovering from the infection may fail to produce even short-lived immunity, allowing patients to immediately become re-infected if they are exposed. The new data from Korea should ease those concerns. KCDC researchers examined 285 cases that had previously recovered from COVID-19 but then tested positive again. The patients tested positive again anywhere from one to 37 days after recovering from their first infection and being discharged from isolation. The average time to a second positive was about 14 days. Of those cases, researchers checked for symptoms in 284 of them. They found that 126 (about 48 percent) did indeed have symptoms related to COVID-19. But none of them seemed to have spread the infection. KCDC investigated 790 people who had close contact with the 285 cases and found that none of them had been infected by the "re-positive" cases. Crucially, additional testing of 108 "re-positive" cases found that none of them were shedding infectious virus.

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BeauHD
27 minutes 36 seconds ago
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