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50 years ago, early organ transplants brought triumph and tragedy

Science News Feed - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 4:00am
In 1968, the liver transplant field had its first small successes. Now, more than 30,000 patients in the U.S. receive a donated liver each year.
Categories: Science

Cycling in later life makes you less likely to have a bad fall

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 3:00am
Riding a bike into your older years means stronger legs, better balance and a lower risk of falls that injure and kill millions of elderly people
Categories: Science

Here’s How SpaceX is Planning to Recover Rocket Fairings: a Boat With a Net Called Mr. Steven

Universe Today Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 6:34pm

When visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, he did so with the intention of rekindling human space exploration and sending humans to Mars. Intrinsic to this vision was the reduction of costs associated with individual launches, which has so far been focused on the development of reusable first-stage rockets. However, the company recently announced that they are looking to make their rocket’s payload fairings reusable as well.

The payload fairing is basically the disposable shell at the top of the rocket that protects the cargo during launch. Once the rocket reaches orbit, the fairings falls away to release the payload to space and are lost. But if they could be retrieved, it would reduce launch cost by additional millions. Known as “Mr. Steven”, this new retrieval system consists of a platform ship, extended arms, and a net strung between them.

Mr. Steven is not unlike SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS), which are used to retrieve first stage rocket boosters at sea. SpaceX has two operational drone ships, including Just Read the Instructions – which is stationed in the Pacific to retrieve launches from Vandenberg – and Of Course I Still Love You, which is stationed in the Atlantic to retrieve launches from Canaveral.

The first ten IridiumNEXT satellites are stacked and encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca., in early 2017. Credit: Iridium

Recently, Teslarati’s Pauline Acalin captured some photographs of Mr. Steven while it was docked on the California coast near Vandenberg Air Force Base, where it preparing to head out to sea in support of the latest Falcon 9 launch. Known as the PAZ Mission, this launch will place a series of Spanish imaging satellites in orbit, as well as test satellites that will be part of SpaceX’s plan to provide broadband internet service.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, February 21st, the launch was scrubbed due to strong upper level winds. It is currently scheduled to take place at 6:17 a.m. PST (14:17 UTC) on Thursday, February 22nd, from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at the Vandenburg Air Force Base. After the cargo is deployed to orbit, the fairings will fall back slowly to Earth thanks to a set of geotagged parachutes.

These chutes will guide the fairings down to the Pacific Ocean, where Mr. Steven will sail to meet them. The fairings, if all goes as planned, will touch down gently into the net and be recovered for later use. In March of 2017, SpaceX successfully recovered a fairing for the first time, which allowed them to recoup an estimated $6 million dollars from that launch.

At present, SpaceX indicates that the cost of an individual Falcon 9 launch is an estimated $62 million. If the payload fairings can be recovered regularly, that means that the company stands to recoup an additional 10% of every individual Falcon 9 launch.

SpaceX’s fairing grabber, Mr. Steven, a couple days ago preparing to ship out for Wednesday’s launch at Vandenberg. @Teslarati #paz #Starlink pic.twitter.com/lfWjUGy56k

— Pauline Acalin (@w00ki33) February 19, 2018

This news comes on the heels of SpaceX having successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket, which carried a Tesla Roadster with “Spaceman” into orbit. The launch was made all the more impressive due to the fact that two of the three rocket boosters used were successfully recovered. The core booster unfortunately crashed while attempted to land on one of the ASDS at sea.

At this rate, SpaceX may even start trying to recover their rocket’s second stages in the not-too-distant future. If indeed all components of a rocket are reusable, the only costs associated with individual launches will be the one-time manufacturing cost of the rocket, the cost of fuel, plus any additional maintenance post-launch.

For fans of space exploration and commercial aerospace, this is certainly exciting news! With every cost-cutting measure, the possibilities for scientific research and crewed missions increase exponentially. Imagine a future where it costs roughly the same to deploy space habitats to orbit as it does to deploy commercial satellites, and sending space-based solar arrays to orbit (and maybe even building a space elevator) is financially feasible!

It might sound a bit fantastic, but when the costs are no longer prohibitive, a lot of things become possible.

Further Reading: Teslatari, TechCrunch

The post Here’s How SpaceX is Planning to Recover Rocket Fairings: a Boat With a Net Called Mr. Steven appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Oughta be better than Sharknado

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 4:12pm

Amazon is going to make a movie of Iain Banks’ Consider Phlebas. That’s going to be tough. Not only would I consider much of it impossible to film, but The Culture isn’t exactly capitalism-friendly, and it will be interesting to see how a mega-corp can develop a movie that is counter to its own ethos without mangling it.

Also, it’s kind of a downer of a story, don’t you know? There isn’t going to be a sequel or a series with the cocky, devil-may-care hero, and I don’t think they’ll sell many t-shirts or video games of Bora Horza Gobuchul.

At least they’re not trying to make Use of Weapons. I don’t think that one would be popular with the happy-clappy space hero crowd.

Categories: Science

Are you kidding?

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 3:42pm

The “President” tweeted this today:

The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018

All religions? Who is he kidding? Graham was an anti-Semite, and why would the Jews miss him? Given that he thought all non-Christians—and those Christians who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior—would go to hell, why would any non-Christian miss him?  Trump could have been laudatory without that ridiculous statement.

Categories: Science

Astronomers Find The Most Distant Supernova Ever: 10.5 Billion Light-Years Away

Universe Today Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 3:39pm

Astronomers have discovered the most distant supernova yet, at a distance of 10.5 billion light years from Earth. The supernova, named DES16C2nm, is a cataclysmic explosion that signaled the end of a massive star some 10.5 billion years ago. Only now is the light reaching us. The team of astronomers behind the discovery have published their results in a new paper available at arXiv.

“…sometimes you just have to go out and look up to find something amazing.” – Dr. Bob Nichol, University of Portsmouth.

The supernova was discovered by astronomers involved with the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a collaboration of astronomers in different countries. The DES’s job is to map several hundred million galaxies, to help us find out more about dark energy. Dark Energy is the mysterious force that we think is causing the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

DES16C2nm was first detected in August 2016. Its distance and extreme brightness were confirmed in October that year with three of our most powerful telescopes – the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan Telescope in Chile, and the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii.

This image from 2015 shows the same area of sky before DES16C2nm exploded. Image: Mat Smith and DES collaboration.

DES16C2nm is what’s known as a superluminous supernova (SLSN), a type of supernova only discovered 10 years ago. SLSNs are the rarest—and the brightest—type of supernova that we know of. After the supernova exploded, it left behind a neutron star, which is the densest type of object in the universe. The extreme brightness of SLSNs, which can be 100 times brighter than other supernovae, are thought to be caused by material falling into the neutron star.

“It’s thrilling to be part of the survey that has discovered the oldest known supernova.” – Dr Mathew Smith, lead author, University of Southampton

Lead author of the study Dr Mathew Smith, of the University of Southampton, said: “It’s thrilling to be part of the survey that has discovered the oldest known supernova. DES16C2nm is extremely distant, extremely bright, and extremely rare – not the sort of thing you stumble across every day as an astronomer.”

Dr. Smith went on to say that not only is the discovery exciting just for being so distant, ancient, and rare. It’s also providing insights into the cause of SLSNs: “The ultraviolet light from SLSN informs us of the amount of metal produced in the explosion and the temperature of the explosion itself, both of which are key to understanding what causes and drives these cosmic explosions.”

“Now we know how to find these objects at even greater distances, we are actively looking for more of them as part of the Dark Energy Survey.” – Co-author Mark Sullivan, University of Southampton.

Now that the international team behind the Dark Energy Survey has found one of the SLSNs, they want to find more. Co-author Mark Sullivan, also of the University of Southampton, said: “Finding more distant events, to determine the variety and sheer number of these events, is the next step. Now we know how to find these objects at even greater distances, we are actively looking for more of them as part of the Dark Energy Survey.”

The instrument used by DES is the newly constructed Dark Energy Camera (DECam), which is mounted on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in the Chilean Andes. DECam is an extremely sensitive 570-megapixel digital camera designed and built just for the Dark Energy Survey.

The DECam in operation at its home in the Chilean Andes. The extremely sensitive, 570 megapixel camera is mounted on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Image: DES/CTIO

The Dark Energy Survey involves more than 400 scientists from over 40 international institutions. It began in 2013, and will wrap up its five year mission sometime in 2018. The DES is using 525 nights of observation to carry out a deep, wide-area survey to record information from 300 million galaxies that are billions of light-years from Earth. DES is designed to help us answer a burning question.

According to Einstein’s General Relativity Theory, gravity should be causing the expansion of the universe to slow down. And we thought it was, until 1998 when astronomers studying distant supernovae found that the opposite is true. For some reason, the expansion is speeding up. There are really only two ways of explaining this. Either the theory of General Relativity needs to be replaced, or a large portion of the universe—about 70%—consists of something exotic that we’re calling Dark Energy. And this Dark Energy exerts a force opposite to the attractive force exerted by “normal” matter, causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

“…sometimes you just have to go out and look up to find something amazing.” – Dr. Bob Nichol, University of Portsmouth.

To help answer this question, the DES is imaging 5,000 square degrees of the southern sky in five optical filters to obtain detailed information about each of the 300 million galaxies. A small amount of the survey time is also used to observe smaller patches of sky once a week or so, to discover and study thousands of supernovae and other astrophysical transients. And this is how DES16C2nm was discovered.

Study co-author Bob Nichol, Professor of Astrophysics and Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, commented: “Such supernovae were not thought of when we started DES over a decade ago. Such discoveries show the importance of empirical science; sometimes you just have to go out and look up to find something amazing.”

The post Astronomers Find The Most Distant Supernova Ever: 10.5 Billion Light-Years Away appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Weekly Space Hangout: Feb 21, 2018: Dr. Jessie Christiansen and “Exoplanet Explorers”

Universe Today Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 3:10pm

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

Special Guests:
Dr. Jessie Christiansen is a Caltech staff scientist and co-founder (with UC Santa Cruz astronomer Dr. Ian Crossfield) of the citizen-scientist project Exoplanet Explorers which examines data from the Kepler K2 mission.

In April, 2017, Exoplanet Explorers detected a 5-planet system with the potential for 6th planet as well. This system, named K2-138, is unique because it is the first multi-planet system to be discovered entirely by a group of citizen scientists. A paper titled The K2-138 System: A Near-resonant Chain of Five Sub-Neptune Planets Discovered by Citizen Scientists has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal. You can access the published version of the article here: https://authors.library.caltech.edu/84280/1/Christiansen_2018_AJ_155_57.pdf

You can also learn more about Dr. Christiansen by visiting her webpage.

Announcements:
If you would like to join the Weekly Space Hangout Crew, visit their site here and sign up. They’re a great team who can help you join our online discussions!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Wednesday at 5:00 pm Pacific / 8:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Universe Today, or the Weekly Space Hangout YouTube page – Please subscribe!

The post Weekly Space Hangout: Feb 21, 2018: Dr. Jessie Christiansen and “Exoplanet Explorers” appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

New fossils are redefining what makes a dinosaur

Science News Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 1:00pm
While some researchers question what characteristics define the dinosaurs, others are uprooting the dino family tree altogether.
Categories: Science

Gorgeous sea slugs from southeast Asia

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 12:45pm

Reader Brian called my attention to a beautiful collection of sea slugs (nudibranchs, or shell-less marine gastropods) at EarthTouch News Network. It’s likely, but not certain, that the striking appearance of many species, as you see here,  are aposematic: they advertise the fact that they’re toxic, distasteful, or dangerous (stinging cells) with their easily-recognized patterns and colors.

These marine jewels all come from one small area. As the site notes:

Take a dive in the waters surrounding Pulau Hantu, a small island off the west coast of Singapore, and you may reemerge feeling unimpressed. Visibility around the island rarely tops three to four metres, and plentiful algae tints the water a vivid green. For macro photographers like Katherine Lu, however, Hantu is a hidden gem. The island harbours a little-known reef that’s teeming with tiny marine life – and among its most remarkable inhabitants are the local sea slugs.

All photos are by Lu; captions are from the website:

A nudibranch in the genus Stilliger. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

 

Bornella anguilla. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

 

Sakuraeolis kirembosa. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

This little creature can photosynthesize in its body:

“Shaun the sheep” Costasiella sp. Measuring just two to three millimetres, this tiny sea slug has the ability to absorb chloroplasts from the algae it feeds on. This allows photosynthesis to occur in the animal’s body. Image: Katherine Lu/WetPixel

For more of Lu’s fantastic photography, go here.

 

 

Categories: Science

Some of The Last Glaciers in The Tropics. They’ll be Gone in About a Decade

Universe Today Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:50am

One of the most visible signs of Climate Change are the ways in which glaciers and ice sheets have been disappearing all over the world. This trend is not reserved to the Arctic ice cap or the Antarctic Basin, of course. On every part of the planet, scientists have been monitoring glaciers that have been shrinking in the past few decades to determine their rate of loss.

These activities are overseen by NASA’s Earth Observatory, which relies on instruments like the Landsat satellites to monitor seasonal ice losses from orbit. As these satellites demonstrated with a series of recently released images, the Puncak Jaya ice sheets on the south pacific island of Papua/New Guinea have been receding in the past three decades, and are at risk of disappearing in just a decade.

The Papau province of New Guinea has a very rugged landscape that consists of the mountains that make up Sudirman Range. The tallest peaks in this range are Puncak Jaya and Ngga Pulu, which stand 4,884 meters (16,020 feet) and 4,862 meters (15,950 feet) above sea level, respectively. Despite being located in the tropics, the natural elevation of these peaks allows them to sustain small fields of “permanent” ice.

Image of the Puncak Jaya icefields, taken on Nov 3, 1988. Credit: NASA/EO

Given the geography, these ice fields are incredibly rare. In fact, within the tropics, the closest glacial ice is found 11,200 km (6,900 mi) away on Mount Kenya in Africa. Otherwise, one has to venture north for about 4,500 km (2,800 mi) to Mount Tate in central Japan, where glacial ice is more common since it is much farther away from the equator.

Sadly, these rare glaciers are becoming more threatened with every passing year. Like all tropical glaciers in the world today, the glaciers on the slopes around Puncak Jaya have been shrinking at a such a rate that scientists estimate that they could be gone within a decade. This was illustrated by a pair of Landsat images that show how the ice fields have shrunk over the past thirty years.

The first of these images (shown above) was acquired on November 3rd, 1988, by the Thematic Mapper instrument aboard the Landsat 5 satellite. The second image (shown below) was acquired on December 5th, 2017, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. These false-color images are a combination of shortwave infrared, infrared, near-infrared, and red light.

The extent of the ice fields are shown in light blue, whereas rocky areas are represented in brown, vegetation in green, and clouds in white. The gray circular area near the center of the 2017 image is the Grasberg mine, the largest gold and second-largest copper mine in the world. This mine expanded considerably between the 1980s and 2000s are a result of a boom in copper prices.

Image of the Puncak Jaya icefields in New Guinea, taken on December 5, 2017. Credit: NASA/EO

As the images show, in 1988, there were five masses of ice resting on the mountain slopes – the Meren, Southwall, Carstensz, East Northwall Firn and West Northwall Firn glaciers. However, by 2017, only the Carstensz and a small portion of the East Northwall Firn glaciers remained. As Christopher Shuman, a research professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explained:

“The ice area losses since the 1980s here are quite striking, visible in the contrast of the blue ice with the reddish bedrock. Even though the area still gets snowfalls, it is clearly not sustaining these glacial remnants.”

Similarly, in 2009, images taken by Landsat 5 of these same glaciers (see below) indicated that the Meren and Southwall glaciers had disappeared. Meanwhile, the Carstensz, East Northwall Firn and West Northwall Firn glaciers had retreated dramatically. Based on the rate of loss, scientists estimated at the time that all of Puncak Jaya’s glaciers would be gone within 20 years.

As these latest images demonstrate, their estimates were right on the money. At their current rate, what remains of the Carstensz and East Northwall Firn glaciers will be gone by the late 2020s. The primary cause of the ice loss is rising air temperatures, which leads to rapid sublimation. However, changes in humidity levels, precipitation patterns and cloudiness can also have an impact.

Image of the Puncak Jaya icefields in New Guinea, October 9, 2009. Credit: NASA/EO

Humidity is also important, since it affects how readily glaciers can lose mass directly to the atmosphere. Where the air is more moist, ice is able to make the transition to water more easily, and can be returned to the glacier in the form of precipitation. Where the air is predominately dry, ice makes the transition directly from a solid form to a gaseous form (aka. sublimation).

Temperature and precipitation are also closely linked to ice loss. Where temperatures are low enough, precipitation takes the form of snow, which can sustain glaciers and cause them to grow. Rainfall, on the other hand, will cause ice sheets to melt and recede. And of course, clouds affect how much sunlight reaches the glacier’s surface, which results in warming and sublimation.

For many tropical glaciers, scientists are still working out the relative importance of these factors and attempting to determine to what extent anthropogenic factors plays a role. In the meantime, tracking how these changes are leading to ice loss in the tropical regions provides scientists with a means of comparison when studying ice loss in other parts of the world.

As Andrew Klein, a geography professor at Texas A & M University who has studied the region, explained:

“Glacier recession continues in the tropics—these happen to be the last glaciers in the eastern tropics. Fortunately, the impact will be limited given their small size and the fact that they do not represent a significant water resource.”

Satellites continue to play an important role in the monitoring process, giving scientist the ability to map glacier ice loss, map seasonal changes, and draw comparisons between different parts on the planet. They also allow scientists to monitor remote and inaccessible areas of the planet to see how they too are being affected. Last, but not least, they allow scientists to estimate the timing of a glacier’s disappearance.

Click on the posted images to enlarge the ice fields, or follow these link to see image comparisons.

Further Reading: NASA Earth Observatory

The post Some of The Last Glaciers in The Tropics. They’ll be Gone in About a Decade appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Well, that got icky fast

Pharyngula Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:04am

A doctor has lost his license to practice medicine after he was found guilty of fondling the breasts of patients during examinations. He was not, however, found guilty of pressing his penis against their legs because, as he himself argued, he was too fat to get that close to them. You might be wondering how that was determined. No. You’re not wondering that, because that’s kind of the last thing you want to know about this case. I didn’t want to know, either, but the article goes ahead and tells us.

Urological experts were hired by both the college and the doctor’s defence team to chemically induce erections in Kunynetz and then simulate patient examinations to determine if indeed his penis could be felt against a patient’s leg.

After conflicting results from the two experts and after consulting photographic evidence from one of the procedures, the discipline panel could only conclude “that the impossibility of contact between the doctor’s penis and a patient’s skin (through clothing) was not established.”

TMI! TMI! I don’t even understand why they needed to get to this level of detail, since he’d already been found guilty of sexual abuse and professional misconduct. Why should precisely determining which patch of skin touched which other patch of skin even matter, since the general violation of ethical conduct had already been determined?

Oh, well. The important thing is that he won’t be practicing medicine anymore, he has lost his appointment with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, he’s facing some massive fines, and he has still another court date at which he may be convicted of assault.

Categories: Science

Jeff Tayler interviews Lubna Ahmed (and writes a memoriam for his dad)

Why Evolution is True Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:00am

Over at Quillette, Jeff Tayler has a nice interview with a Muslim apostate who’s new to most of us: Lubna Ahmed. She’s an engineer from Baghdad, and, after going on the Rubin Report via Skype 3 years ago, and proclaiming her atheism and dislike of Islam, she became a pariah in Iraq. She was attacked and got death threats. Ahmed had little choice but to move, and came to the U.S. with the help of the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Center for Inquiry. Now fairly safe, she speaks freely about Islam.

It’s a far-reaching conversation, and will of course not only be deemed “Islamophobic”, even though it’s about the religion and not the people, but will also make Ahmed an endangered person. For nearly all ex-Muslims in America, or at least those who are vocal about the problems with the faith, are endangered. Some, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need bodyguards. Remember when you hear that “all religions are the same” or “Islam is no more dangerous than any other faith,” that apostate Christians, Jews, or Hindus don’t risk murder when they declare their atheism and begin criticizing their former religion. Only Islam motivates people to become fatwa-following killers.

Ahmed’s quiet demeanor contrasts starkly with her strong words. (She’s only 26!) I’ll let you have the pleasure—if that’s the right word—of reading Jeff’s interview for yourself. Here’s just one excerpt (with both Ahmed and Tayler’s words) to give you a taste, but the whole thing is sufficiently short that even those who are attention-deprived can read it. Ahmed covers the story of her growing unbelief, the misogyny of Iraq, the hijab, Western reaction to Islam, and so on.

During our talk Ahmed repeatedly returned to the misogyny of Islam, and made it clear that this is what most angered her about the faith.

“In my country I saw a lot of women, a lot of children, treated in a very bad way because of that religion. Look at what happened in Mosul and what ISIS did there. ISIS reflects the true identity of Islam. Islam treats women as trash, as, I’m sorry, not even animals. Women are just objects in Islamic countries, in Islam.”

One who hopes to argue with Ahmed here will find that the faith denies women rights to a degree no enlightened observer could justify. It values their testimony in court as half that of a man; sanctions the barbarous savagery of female genital mutilation; deprives women of half their inheritance in favor of male heirs; demands that they submit to their husbands (even abusive husbands, whom they may be compelled to share with as many as three other wives); and, as mentioned above, allows men to seize them as sex slaves in jihad. Backed up by the Hadith, the Quran devotes no small number of surahs to condoning slavery, including sex-slavery.

In view of all that, it should come as no surprise that the World Economic Forum has consistently found that nineteen of the twenty worst countries for women on earth are Muslim-majority. Regarding personal freedoms in general, Muslim countries have, year after year, ranked overwhelmingly as “not free.”

And then comes the matter of veiling. By chance we happened to speak on “World Hijab Day” – a vile slap in the face of the brave women of Iran protesting against the Islamic regime for the freedom not to wear it, yet, out of mistaken notions of solidarity, celebrated in the West by at least some morally oblivious, regressive leftist simpletons. It was not hard to imagine what Ahmed thought of the Islamic headscarf, yet I asked.

“Islam wants all women to wear the hijab – it’s a sign that women are slaves, not human beings. Whether you’re eight years old or an adult woman, you don’t have the right to choose for yourself. Islam has to control you [if you’re a female]. Menshould control your whole life as a woman. . . . Islam was created by men to control women, to be slaves, to use and abuse them, sexually, physically, mentally, and treat them like trash, as if they were nothing.”

Heres’s Ahmed with Dave Rubin last year, now able to have a live conversation:

I’d also like to call your attention to Jeff’s essay on his father’s death, published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, called “The chiming bells of mortality.” Traveling to a Greek island, he limns his father’s death (and reflects on his own mortality) with ancient Greek poetry. I found it very moving.

 

Categories: Science

Sea urchins can drill holes in solid rock with just their teeth

New Scientist Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:00am
If a sea urchin can't find a suitable pit to live in, it makes one – even if it has to spend months gnawing away at hard granite
Categories: Science

When it comes to climate change, a tantrum is just what we need

New Scientist Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:30am
We can’t wait for the next generation to solve the problem of climate change but today’s kids can still be a big force for change, says Michael E. Mann
Categories: Science

In a first, tiny diamond anvils trigger chemical reactions by squeezing

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:19am
Scientists have turned the smallest possible bits of diamond and other super-hard specks into 'molecular anvils' that squeeze and twist molecules until chemical bonds break and atoms exchange electrons. These are the first such chemical reactions triggered by mechanical pressure alone, and researchers say the method offers a new way to do chemistry at the molecular level that is greener, more efficient and much more precise.
Categories: Science

Amateur astronomer captures rare first light from massive exploding star

Space and time from Science Daily Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:18am
First light from a supernova is hard to capture; no one can predict where and when a star will explode. An amateur astronomer has now captured on film this first light, emitted when the exploding core hits the star's outer layers: shock breakout. Subsequent observations by astronomers using the Lick and Keck observatories helped identify it as a Type IIb supernova that slimmed down from 20 to 5 solar masses before exploding.
Categories: Science

OSIRIS-REx Sends Home an Image of the Earth and Moon

Universe Today Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:17am

On September 8th. 2016, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) launched from Earth to rendezvous with the asteroid 101955 Bennu. This mission will be the first American robotic spacecraft to rendezvous with an asteroid, which it will reach by December of 2018, and return samples to Earth for analysis (by September 24th, 2023).

Since that time, NASA has been keeping the public apprised of the mission’s progress, mainly by sending back images taken by the spacecraft. The latest image was one of the Earth and Moon, which the spacecraft took using its NavCam 1 imager on January 17th, 2018. As part of an engineering test, this image shows just how far the probe has ventured from Earth.

Image of the Earth-Moon system, taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Jan. 17th 2018. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

The image was taken when the spacecraft was at a distance of 63.6 million km (39.5 million mi) from the Earth and Moon. When the camera acquired the image, the spacecraft was moving at a speed of 8.5 km per second (19,000 mph) away from Earth. Earth can be seen in the center of the image as the brightest of the two spots while the smaller, dimmer Moon appears to the right.

Several constellations are also visible in the surrounding space, including the Pleiades cluster in the upper left corner. Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, is also visible in the upper right corner of the image. Meanwhile, the Earth-Moon system is nestled between the five stars that make up the head of Cetus the Whale.

This is merely the latest in a string of photographs that show how far OSIRIS-REx has ventured from Earth. On October 2nd, 2017, the probe’s MapCam instrument took a series of images of the Earth and Moon while the probe was at a distance of 5 million km (3 million mi) – about 13 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. NASA then created a composite image to create a lovely view of the Earth-Moon system (see below).

The Earth-Moon system, as imaged by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. Credit: NASA/OSIRIS-REx team and the University of Arizona

On September 22nd, 2017, the probe also snapped a “Blue Marble” image of Earth (seen below) while it was at a distance of just 170,000 km (106,000 mi). The image was captured just a few hours after OSIRIS-REx had completed its critical Earth Gravity Assist (EGA) maneuver, which slung it around the Earth and on its way towards the asteroid Bennu for its scheduled rendezvous in December of 2018.

On both of these occasions, the images were taken by the probe’s MapCam instrument, a medium-range camera designed to capture images of outgassing around Bennu and help map its surface in color. The NavCam 1 instrument, by contrast, is a grayscale imager that is part of Touch-And-Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) navigation camera suite.

A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22, 2017 by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft just hours after the spacecraft completed its Earth Gravity Assist at a range of approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The design, construction and testing of this instrument was carried out by Malin Space Science Systems, and Lockheed Martin is responsible for its operation. By the time OSIRIS-REx begins to approach asteroid Bennu in December of 2018, we can expect that the probes cameras will once again be busy.

However, by this time, they will be turned towards its destination. As it nears Bennu, its cameras will need to be calibrated yet again by snapping images of the asteroid on approach. And we, the public, can expect that more beautiful composite images will be shared as a result.

Further Reading: NASA

The post OSIRIS-REx Sends Home an Image of the Earth and Moon appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 100

Center for Inquiry News - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:12am

Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible. Become a member today!

The Top Stories

Evolution and Activism Celebrated in Darwin Day and Civic Day Events

CFI branches across the country have been celebrating Charles Darwin and his legacy. Two hundred and fifty people turned out to celebrate the life and legacy of Charles Darwin for CFI Austin’s annual Darwin Day event. The full day of presentations and activities included expert presentations on human evolution and adaptation as well as talks on primates, insects, biospheres, and even Darwin’s ideas as represented in the movie Avatar. Grown-ups also had the chance to show off their highly evolved brains with a trivia contest.

Kids probably had the best time of all, taking part in a fossil dig, a build-a-dino workshop, some useful training in how to walk like a dinosaur, microscopic looks at tiny creatures, arts and crafts, storytelling, and much more. And let’s not forget the cutting of the all-important birthday cake. Alas, Darwin isn’t around to enjoy it, so the kids happily took on that responsibility for him.

Attendees at CFI Tampa Bay‘s 16th Annual Darwin Day were engrossed by sociologist Jennifer Hancock, who discussed a key pillar of humanism: developing happiness in our lives. Secularism scholar Phil Zuckerman talked about his study of the secular populations of Nordic nations and how they are far happier and content than Americans overall, all without religion. Sociologist and professor Ryan Cragun served as master of ceremonies.

CFI Northeast Ohio held two events: in Cleveland they screened a selection of videos on evolution, and in Stow they heard a presentation from Lee Hall of Cleveland Museum of Natural History on sauropod dinosaurs. CFI Michigan heard a lecture on “Darwin and the soul” from Mark Reimers, Professor of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University.

The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Studies also took part in the Darwin Day festivities. In a separate event in Tampa, Florida, TIES held a workshop for 45 teachers, facilitated by Kenny Coogan. In addition to Darwin Day activities, just last weekend TIES director Bertha Vazquez delivered a presentation on the program—“Evolution Education: A Success Story”— for the Central Florida Freethought Community. TIES also broke new ground with its first workshop in the state of Indiana at the Indiana Science Teachers Annual Conference in Indianapolis.

Speaking of Indiana, dire weather forecasts, slick roads, delayed flights, and rampant flu viruses could not stop CFI Indiana from carrying forward with its annual Civic Day, which boasted a truly impressive lineup of leaders, activists, and scholars, all with a mind to prepare attendees to make positive change in policy. (Don’t worry, the people with the flu stayed home.)

Held at the Indiana State Library, attendees of the event heard from experts representing organizations such as the ACLU of Indiana, Women4Change Indiana, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, and more, as well as CFI’s own legal director, Nick Little. After the presentations, folks headed to CFI Indiana’s headquarters for food and fellowship. Nature threw a lot at Civic Day 2018, but thankfully a truly meaningful and enlightening time was had by all.

 

Privileging Religion By Any Means

Amid the great tragedies and scandals of recent weeks, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have gone under the radar to launch a flurry of new attacks on secular government by defending religiously based discrimination, taking cynical advantage of disasters, and undermining children’s education. Here are some of the issues CFI has been working on in February:

Religious Right Watchdogs at the DOJ: Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions established a new policy requiring each U.S. Attorney’s office to assign a staffer to monitor all cases involving “religious liberty,” which is code for those instances when a religious individual or organization wants the freedom to discriminate against anyone who does not conform to their beliefs.

Career attorneys are instructed to bring these cases to political appointees so they can advance their agenda of privileging religious belief over equality and rule of law. If a business refuses service to LGBTQ Americans, if women seeking contraceptive services are turned away, or a transgender person is denied the use of a public bathroom, the Justice Department will defend those responsible for the discrimination in the name of religious liberty. “All Americans, including those of all faiths and those of no faith, should be able to rely on fair treatment from the Department of Justice,” said CFI Legal Director Nick Little in our statement. “By this policy, Jeff Sessions has handed the keys to his Department to the religious Right.”

Passing the Collection Plate to FEMA: To aid in rebuilding after hurricanes and wildfires caused incredible damage in several states, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides grants to private facilities that perform essential social services for the general public, such as community centers, homeless shelters, and senior citizen centers. But in its Bipartisan Budget Agreement, the U.S. Senate has declared “houses of worship” to be eligible for FEMA grants as well, allowing churches to use taxpayer dollars to improve their facilities.

“Houses of worship are already eligible to get government grants to cover damages incurred when serving their community,” CFI Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux pointed out. “If churches want protection against damage from natural disasters, that’s what insurance is for.” Jason was cited in Emma Green’s article on this issue for The Atlantic.

Public Funds for Private Indoctrination: Also stuffed into the Senate’s budget bill was a provision that would siphon taxpayer money away from public schools receiving disaster relief and into a school voucher scheme, diverting $2.7 billion in badly needed public funds toward private schools, the vast majority of which are religious. Jason Lemieux called out the Senate for “[using] disaster relief as a cover to divert taxpayer money to vouchers for religious schools that can discriminate against LGBTQ, disabled, and nonreligious children.”

Days later, the White House followed suit. In its 2019 budget request, the Trump administration seeks to allot $1 billion in taxpayer funds for voucher programs—four times the amount requested in the previous year. CFI spoke out against the funding of schools that are free to discriminate. “This administration is falling over itself to please the religious Right,” said CFI’s president and CEO, Robyn Blumner, “and this time it is to encourage parents to remove their children from pluralistic and secular public schools to enroll them instead in schools designed to indoctrinate children into religious beliefs.”

 

CFI Highlights on the Web

February is Black History Month, the perfect opportunity to learn more about African Americans throughout history whose humanism and skepticism not only helped establish the foundations of our secularist movement, but fought for and inspired monumental progress for civil and human rights, science, and the arts.

Take the time to visit CFI’s African Americans for Humanism website, and rediscover some of these pivotal historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poets and novelists James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, actress Butterfly McQueen, and others.

New on CFI’s Reasonable Talk video series:

Ross Blocher is cohost with Carrie Poppy of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast. In his CSICon 2017 presentation, Blocher explains how his experiences with believers of all stripes taught him that the best way to make progress for reason is to prioritize friendship and understanding with those who don’t think like us.

Also from CSICon 2017, Teresa Giménez Barbat, a member of the European Parliament, discusses her efforts to denounce pseudoscience and defend a secular society, as well as her theories about how secularism is the keystone for peaceful coexistence among people of varying beliefs.

Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP.org, and more

From Skeptical Inquirer’s important recent issue on racism, Sam Scott profiles the work Jennifer Eberhardt whose groundbreaking research has revealed “the long, pernicious reach of unconscious racial bias,” and psychology professor Terence Hines looks at the pseudoscience upon which white supremacists hang their pointy hoods and tells us why talking them out of their racism is so difficult.

Harriet Hall wants you to know that despite some spooking from the media, copper won’t kill you, whether it be in bracelet form or as a mug for your beverage. One take-home lesson: “Copper is good for you in small amounts but bad for you in large amounts. (Which is true of a great many things, even water.)”

Jonathan Jarry brings more CSICon video interviews, this time with “skeptical dentist” Grant Richey, who takes on dental pseudoscience, and CFI’s own super-investigator Joe Nickell. Plus, check out Joe’s review of the film Winchester. (It doesn’t fare well.)

Commander-in-chief of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project, Susan Gerbic, chronicled her month-long skeptic’s journey through Europe…in a five-part series! Here are parts one, two, three, and four, and part five is coming soon.

At Free Thinking, Ben Radford says that the pearl-clutching over the Fifty Shades movies, and claims that they are somehow dangerous to society (for reasons other than being terrible movies), are insufficiently warranted and fail to give women enough credit for being able to distinguish between reality and fiction.

 

Upcoming CFI Events

CFI National

  • March 8: Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Studies (TIES) online workshop, with John Mead discussing the discovery of the species Homo naledi.
  • March 16: TIES webinar with Kathleen McAuliffe, author of This is Your Brain on Parasites.


CFI Austin


CFI Indiana

  • March 18: The first of a three-part event celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein.
  • March 27: Discussion on Frankenstein and today’s technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloning, and genetic modification. Panelists include Indiana University health and humanities professor Emily Beckman, Saint Louis University ethics professor Jason Aberl, and Rufus Cochran of the Indiana Science Communication and Education Foundation.


CFI Los Angeles

CFI Tampa Bay

  • February 24: Experts at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) guide an exploration of the stars in a SkyWatch event.

  • March 8: Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute debates James Michael Shaw, Jr. of the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU on the Supreme Court case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.


CFI Western New York

 

Thank you!

 

Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!

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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director. 

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net. 





 

Categories: , Skeptic

We do not know for sure how dark or light Cheddar Man’s skin was

New Scientist Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:02am
The headline was that an ancient Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark skin, but the genetics of skin colour are so complex that we can’t be sure
Categories: Science

Serendipitous supernova explosion caught on camera

Science News Feed - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:00am
An amateur astronomer has caught a supernova explosion on camera.
Categories: Science

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