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The ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus contains the building blocks of life, NASA data reveals

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 15:07

NASA data revealed the most basic ingredients of life in bursts from an ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus.


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Cultural Studies Key to National Security

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 14:36

A lack of understanding between American and Middle-Eastern culture is a national security risk.


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Dutch inventor says his ocean cleaning boom is working

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 11:09

After a series of setbacks, a system for catching plastic floating in the Pacific between California and Hawaii is now working, its Dutch inventor said Wednesday. Boyan Slat, a university dropout who founded The Ocean Cleanup nonprofit, announced that the floating boom is skimming up waste ranging in size from a discarded net and a car wheel complete with tire to chips of plastic measuring just 1 millimeter. The results are promising enough to begin designing a second system to send to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating plastic trash twice the size of Texas, Slat said.


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Before we put people on Mars, we should infect the planet with Earthly microbes, a group of scientists says

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 10:23

NASA seeks to prevent interplanetary contamination when exploring space. But some scientists argue we should be infecting Mars with Earth's microbes.


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Should you keep eating red meat? Controversial study says well-known health risks are just bad science

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 09:08

A study from the NutriRECS group published in the Annals of Internal Medicine urged adults to keep eating red meat. Doctors are now pushing back.


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A 50-year-old technology that uses bursts of electricity to treat pain might finally catch on as doctors hunt for alternatives to opioids

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:20

Neuromodulation isn't used very often, because it can be costly and require surgery. Plus, it can only treat some types of pain.


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10-fold surge in S.Africa teens treated for HIV: study

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 06:11

The number of young people in South Africa receiving treatment for HIV has increased 10-fold within a decade, a major new study has found. AIDS deaths have declined globally since the peak of the epidemic in the early 2000s, but an international AIDS commission warned last year of a resurgence if the world's booming adolescent population weren't protected.


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The future of farming is here and it requires no soil at all

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 19:00

Aeroponic vertical farms – the newest way of farming – involves zero soil, zero heavy machinery and uses 90 percent less water.


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Restoring forests for the sake of climate, habitats

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 14:57

Destruction of the forests can be swift. In a corner of the Peruvian Amazon, where illegal gold mining has scarred forests and poisoned ground, scientists work to change wasteland back to wilderness. More than 3,000 miles to the north, on former coal mining land across Appalachia, workers rip out old trees that never put down deep roots and make the soil more suitable to regrow native tree species.


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NASA lander captures marsquakes, other Martian sounds

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 13:51

NASA's InSight lander on Mars has captured the low rumble of marsquakes and a symphony of other otherworldly sounds. InSight's seismometer has detected more than 100 events, but only 21 are considered strong marsquake candidates. The French seismometer is so sensitive it can hear the Martian wind as well as movements by the lander's robot arm and other mechanical "dinks and donks " as the team calls them.


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Relativity Space raises $140M to stay on track for 3D-printed rocket’s launch

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 11:58

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


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16 recently discovered exoplanets could offer our best chance of finding alien life outside the solar system

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 09:26

NASA telescopes have found thousands of exoplanets, some of which could host life. Scientists recently detected water vapor on a super-Earth.


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In restored forests, hope for world beset by climate change

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 08:35

Destruction of the forests can be swift. In a corner of the Peruvian Amazon, where illegal gold mining has scarred forests and poisoned ground, scientists work to change wasteland back to wilderness. More than 3,000 miles to the north, on former coal mining land across Appalachia, workers rip out old trees that never put down deep roots and make the soil more suitable to regrow native tree species.


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Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice.

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 06:05

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


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NASA issues its fast-track plan to get two commercial lunar landers for 2024-2025

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 14:43

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


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Leave ‘Em Laughing Instead of Crying: Climate Humor Can Break Down Barriers and Find Common Ground

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 13:59

Social science and humanities scholars have been examining new, potentially more effective ways to communicate about climate change.


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Climate Change Is Really about Prosperity, Peace, Public Health and Posterity – Not Saving the Environment

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 14:30

What will it take to get people to connect to the climate change story?


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Rising Seas Threaten Hundreds of Native American Heritage sites Along Florida’s Gulf Coast

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 13:05

These places literally embody human lives, and are the only records we have of prehistoric indigenous peoples of the New World.


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Elon Musk's ambitious plan for SpaceX's Starship aims to put the reusable rocket system in orbit in less than six months

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 11:00

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presented an update on the system at the company's launch facility in Cameron County, Texas on Saturday, Sept. 28.


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Musk Sets Out SpaceX Starship's Ambitious Launch Timeline

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 10:14

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


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