Study: Female dolphins have a working clitoris, so they probably enjoy sex

Sure, they look like they're just taking a friendly swim, but these two dolphins are actually aroused. A recent study found that female bottlenose dolphins have large erectile bodies that fill up with blood, large nerves with nerve bundles that end right under the skin, thinner skin on the clitoris body, and genital corpuscles known to be involved in the pleasure response.

Enlarge / Sure, they look like they’re just taking a friendly swim, but these two dolphins are actually aroused. A recent study found that female bottlenose dolphins have large erectile bodies that fill up with blood, large nerves with nerve bundles that end right under the skin, thinner skin on the clitoris body, and genital corpuscles known to be involved in the pleasure response. (credit: Dara Orbach)

Female dolphins are known to be highly social and engage in all sorts of sexual behavior. In addition to mating with male dolphins, female bottlenose dolphins are, for instance, known to masturbate and also rub each other’s clitoris with snouts, flippers, and flukes, suggesting the acts are pleasurable for them. According to a recent paper published in the journal Current Biology, there is now anatomical evidence that the dolphin clitoris is fully functional, remarkably similar in many ways to the clitoris in human females.

It’s not just dolphins that engage in what Canadian biologist and linguist Bruce Bagemihl has dubbed “biological exuberance.” Same-sex pairings have been recorded in some 450 different species, including flamingoes, bison, warthogs, beetles, and guppies. For instance, female koalas sometimes mount other females, while male Amazon river dolphins have been known to penetrate each other’s blowholes. The observation of female-female pairs among Laysan albatrosses made national headlines, prompting comedian Stephen Colbert to warn satirically that “albatresbians” were threatening American family values with their “Sappho-avian agenda.” Female hedgehogs may hump one another or perform cunnilingus, while 60 percent of all sexual activity among bonobos takes place between two or more females.

Despite this abundance of behavioral evidence, there have been very few academic studies of the clitoris and female sexual pleasure in nature, according to Patricia Brennan, a marine biologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and a co-author of the new study. “This has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behaviors,” she said. “Studying and understanding sexual behaviors in nature is a fundamental part of understanding the animal experience and may even have important medical applications in the future.” It can also yield insights into the evolution of sexual behaviors.

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#anatomy, #animals, #biological-exuberance, #biology, #dolphins, #science, #sexuality

COVID-infected hamsters in pet shop trigger animal cull in Hong Kong

People in protective gear stand outside a colorful storefront.

Enlarge / Workers with Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department inspect the Little Boss pet store in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Authorities in Hong Kong are planning to cull around 2,000 small animals after a pet store employee and several imported hamsters tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by the Associated Press.

On Monday, the pet store employee tested positive and was found to be infected with the delta coronavirus variant. Several hamsters in the store, which had recently been imported from the Netherlands, were also positive. The city, meanwhile, has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

It’s unclear if the pet store cases are linked and, if they are, if the employee was infected by the hamsters or vice versa. But Hong Kong authorities say they can’t exclude the possibility that the hamsters spread the virus to the employee. As such, they aren’t taking any chances.

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#animal-reservoir, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #hamster, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #zoonosis

After six decades, Russia will build its final Proton rocket this year

A Russian 3-stage Proton rocket blasts into the sky in 2000.

Enlarge / A Russian 3-stage Proton rocket blasts into the sky in 2000. (credit: NASA)

Russia’s main space corporation, Roscosmos, said it is in the process of building four more Proton rockets before it shuts down production of the venerable booster.

In a news release, Roscosmos said the four rockets are on an assembly line at the Khrunichev State Space Research and Design Center’s factory in Moscow’s Fili district. After their production is complete, these four rockets will be added to its present inventory of 10 flight-ready Proton-M rockets. (The news release was translated for Ars by Rob Mitchell.)

Russia said it plans to launch these remaining 14 Proton rockets over the next four or five years. During this time frame Russia plans to transition payloads, such as military communications satellites, that would have launched on the Proton booster to the new Angara-A5 rocket.

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#proton, #russia, #science, #space

Over 100 different species made this 2,200-year-old shipwreck home, study finds

The ship's ram as it was found on the seabed off Sicily at a depth of nearly 90 m, covered in marine life.

Enlarge / The ship’s ram as it was found on the seabed off Sicily at a depth of nearly 90 m, covered in marine life. (credit: K. Egorov/SDSS-GUE)

Shipwrecks hold an enduring fascination, both because of how they connect us to the past and because of the potentially priceless treasures that could be lurking within their sunken remains. They are also invaluable resources for scientists interested in studying how marine ecosystems evolve and thrive, since sea creatures inevitably colonize the wreckage, transforming destruction into life. In fact, more than 100 distinct animal species were found living on a 2,200-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck, according to a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

“Shipwrecks are often studied to follow colonization by marine organisms, but few studies have focused on ships that sank more than a century ago,” said co-author Sandra Ricci of Rome’s Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR). “Here we study for the first time colonization of a wreck over a period of more than 2,000 years. We show that the ram has ended up hosting a community very similar to the surrounding habitat, due to ‘ecological connectivity’—free movement by species—between it and the surroundings.”

Rome and Carthage were archrivals in the mid-3rd century BCE who fought three wars. The first war began in 264 BCE on and around the island of Sicily, and it dragged on for 23 years. Almost everything we know about the First Punic War comes from the writings of Greek historian-turned-Roman hostage Polybius, who wrote The Histories about a century after the First Punic War ended. While there has been some debate about the accuracy of his accounts, most modern historians still rely heavily on Polybius, and his version of events is typically accepted when there are contradictions in other historical sources.

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#archaeology, #ecology, #first-punic-war, #history, #science, #shipwrecks

Pfizer and Moderna expect seasonal booster shots after omicron wave

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - 2022/01/08: A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination centre.

Enlarge / EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS – 2022/01/08: A vial containing Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine at a vaccination centre. (credit: Getty | SOPA Images)

As the US weathers record COVID-19 cases from the ultra-transmissible omicron variant, vaccine makers are thinking about future waves—and the shots that could help prevent them.

Leading mRNA vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech are currently working up omicron-specific versions of their vaccines, which could be ready in a matter of months. And according to recent interviews, they expect that such boosters will be used as annual shots, which could be given in the fall for the next several years until global transmission dies down.

“I think the reality is that this is going to become an annual vaccination, at least for a period of time,” Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and Pfizer board member, said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We don’t know what the epidemiology of this infection is going to be over the long run, but certainly over the next couple of years, you can envision boosters becoming an annual affair.”

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#boosters, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderan, #pfizer, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

Astronomers find growing number of Starlink satellite tracks

A Starlink track running across the Andromeda galaxy.

Enlarge / A Starlink track running across the Andromeda galaxy. (credit: Caltech Optical Observatories/IPAC)

SpaceX’s Starlink Internet service will require a dense constellation of satellites to provide consistent, low-latency connectivity. The system already has over 1,500 satellites in orbit and has received approval to operate 12,000 of them. And that has astronomers worried. Although SpaceX has taken steps to reduce the impact of its hardware, there’s no way to completely eliminate the tracks the satellites leave across ground-based observations.

How bad is the problem? A team of astronomers has used archival images from a survey telescope to look for Starlink tracks over the past two years. Over that time, the number of images affected rose by a factor of 35, and the researchers estimate that by the time the planned Starlink constellation is complete, pretty much every image from their hardware will have at least one track in it.

Looking widely

The hardware used for the analysis is called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at the Palomar Observatory. The ZTF is designed to pick up rare events, such as supernovae. It does so by scanning the entire sky repeatedly, with software monitoring the resulting images to look for objects that were absent in early images but which appeared in later ones. The ZTF’s high sensitivity makes it good for picking out dim objects, like asteroids, in our own Solar System.

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#astronomy, #satellites, #science, #space, #spacex, #starlink

Dark matter asteroids (if they exist) may cause solar flares 

An X1.6 class solar flare flashes in the middle of the sun on Sept. 10, 2014.

An X1.6 class solar flare flashes in the middle of the sun on Sept. 10, 2014. (credit: NASA/SDO)

Dark matter is proving to be a rather frustrating topic for physicists, cosmologists, and other outward-looking scientists. All the data for dark matter is gravitational, and the lack of other evidence only draws a box on the particle map where scientists have scrawled, “Here be dark matter.”

Dark matter interacts so weakly with ordinary matter that we simply don’t notice it over the racket of ordinary matter drunkenly shouting at the Universe’s particle bar. What we need is to give it a place to shine—to let it take the spotlight and sing karaoke. It turns out that the inside of a star might just be that place.

Disappointing flashes in the dark

Most proposals for dark matter candidates use the simplest possible extension to the Standard Model. These extensions allow theoretical physicists to estimate how such particles would interact with ordinary matter.

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#asteroids, #dark-matter, #science, #solar-flares

Pregnant people are still not getting vaccinated against Covid

Pregnant people are still not getting vaccinated against Covid

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Dmitry Rogulin )

Calendar year three into the pandemic, and vaccination coverage among pregnant people remains staggeringly low.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 1, just over 40 percent of pregnant people in the United States between age 18 and 49 were fully vaccinated prior to pregnancy or during their pregnancy, compared with 66 percent of the general population over the age of 5. For Black pregnant people, the figure plummets to about 25 percent. Data for the United Kingdom is a little less up to date, but in August 2021 just 22 percent of women who gave birth were fully vaccinated.

And with Omicron running rampant, this is a problem. At the end of 2021, the UK’s vaccine watchdog, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, announced that pregnant women would be made a priority group for vaccination, after reams of research has shown just how vulnerable the group is to Covid.

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#covid-19, #pregnancy, #science, #vaccinations

Take a Look at The Largest And Most Detailed 3D Map of The Universe Ever Made

A ‘CT scan’ of the Universe across more than 5 billion light-years. (D. Schlegel/Berkeley Lab/DESI data

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), currently pointed skyward from its home in the Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, is tasked with tracking the expansion of space, to study dark energy and create the most detailed 3D map. of the Universe that was never assembled.

It’s only been seven months since the DESI mission began, and we already have a record-breaking, stunning three-dimensional image of the galaxy  all around us, demonstrating DESI’s capabilities  and  potential  for mapping space.
DESI has already cataloged and tracked over 7.5 million galaxies, with over a million new additions per month. When the scan is fully completed in 2026, more than 35 million galaxies would have been mapped, giving astronomers  a huge library of data to mine.

“There’s a lot of beauty in there,” says Lawrence astrophysicist Julien guy in California. “In the distribution of  galaxies on the 3D map, there are huge clusters, filaments and voids.These are the largest structures in the Universe.

But within them you will find an imprint of the  early Universe and the story of its expansion since DESI is made up of 5,000 optical fibers, each individually controlled and positioned ionized by its own little robot These fibers must be precisely positioned  within 10 microns,  less than the thickness of a human hair,  then catch glimpses of light as they filter through the Earth of the cosmos.

Through this fiber network, the instrument takes color spectrum images of millions of galaxies, covering more than a third of the entire sky, before calculating how much the light has been redshifted – that is, how much it’s been pushed towards the red end of the spectrum due to the expansion of the Universe.


As this light can take up to several billion years to reach Earth, it’s possible to use redshift data to see depth in the Universe: the greater the redshift, the farther away something is. What’s more, the structures mapped by DESI can be reverse engineered to see the initial formation that they started out in.


The main objective of DESI is to reveal more about the dark energy that is thought to make up 70 percent of the Universe as well as speeding up its expansion. This dark energy could drive galaxies into an infinite expansion, cause them to collapse back on themselves or something in between – and cosmologists are keen to narrow down the options.

[DESI] will help us  search for clues about the nature of dark energy,” Carlos Frenk, a cosmologist at Durham University in the UK, told the BBC. We will also learn more about  dark matter and the role it plays in how it happens, forms galaxies such as the Milky Way, and how the universe evolves.

The 3D map that has already been released shows that scientists don’t have to wait for DESI to finish its work to start benefiting from its deep look into space explores whether or not small galaxies have their own black holes like large galaxies.

The best way to spot a black hole is to identify the gas, dust and other material  dragged into it, but that’s not easy to see in small galaxies – something where high-precision spectral data collected by DESI should help. Then there’s the study of quasars

, particularly bright galaxies powered by supermassive black holes, which serve as clues to billions of years of space history.

DESI  will be used to test a hypothesis around quasars: that they start out surrounded by an envelope of dust that is chased away over time. The amount of dust around a quasar is believed to affect the color of the light it emits, making it a perfect job for DESI.

The tool should be able to collect information on around 2.4 million quasars before its survey is complete.”DESI is really great because it collects much fainter, much redder objects,” says Durham University astronomer Victoria Fawcett.

“We’re finding quite a few exotic systems, including large samples of rare objects that we’ve simply never seen able to study in detail before.

Source: ScienceAlert

#science, #space

Shkreli’s infamous 4,000% price hike gets him a lifetime pharma ban

Martin Shkreli looks disappointed.

Enlarge / Martin Shkreli. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

A federal court on Friday banned convicted fraudster Martin Shkreli from ever working in the pharmaceutical industry again in any capacity and ordered him to pay back $64.6 million in profits from his infamous scheme that raised the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim more than 4,000 percent.

US District Judge Denise Cote issued the lifetime ban after finding that Shkreli engaged in anticompetitive practices to protect the monopoly profits of Daraprim.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission and seven states—New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—Shkreli, his former pharmaceutical company Vyera (formerly Turing), and former Vyera CEO Kevin Mulleady created a “web of anticompetitive restrictions to box out the competition” in 2015 after they bought the rights to Daraprim.

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#daraprim, #pharmaceutical-industry, #science, #shkreli, #wu-tang

Intestinal parasites plagued Jerusalem’s wealthy elite, toilet excavation reveals

A 2,700-year-old toilet seat made of stone revealed the poor sanitary conditions of a 7th-century Jerusalem luxury villa.

Enlarge / A 2,700-year-old toilet seat made of stone revealed the poor sanitary conditions of a 7th-century Jerusalem luxury villa. (credit: Yoli Schwartz, The Israel Antiquities Authority)

The wealthy, privileged elite of Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE were plagued by poor sanitary conditions and resulting parasitic intestinal diseases, according to a recent paper published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. An analysis of soil samples collected from a stone toilet found within the ruins of a swanky villa revealed the presence of parasitic eggs from four different species. The work should help document the history of infectious disease in the region, providing additional insight into the daily lives of the people who once lived there.

“The findings of this study are among the earliest observed in Israel to date,” said author Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, who is a leading researcher in the emerging field of archeoparasitology. “These are durable eggs, and under the special conditions provided by the cesspit, they survived for nearly 2,700 years. Intestinal worms are parasites that cause symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and itching. Some of them are especially dangerous for children and can lead to malnutrition, developmental delays, nervous system damage, and, in extreme cases, even death.”

Yes, it sounds gross, but archaeologists can actually learn a great deal by studying the remains of intestinal parasites in ancient feces. For instance, per Langgut, prior studies have compared fecal parasites found in hunter-gatherer and farming communities, thereby revealing dramatic dietary changes, as well as shifts in settlement patterns and social organization coinciding with the rise of agriculture. The domestication of animals in particular led to more parasitic infections in farming communities, while hunter-gatherer groups were exposed to fewer parasites and transmissible diseases given their nomadic lifestyle. This is even reflected in modern nomadic communities of hunter-gatherers.

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#antiquities, #archaeology, #archeoparasitology, #gaming-culture, #israel-antiquity-authority, #paleopathology, #science

We don’t know why, but being in space causes us to destroy our blood

We don’t know why, but being in space causes us to destroy our blood

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

Space isn’t easy on humans. Some aspects are avoidable—the vacuum, of course, and the cold, as well as some of the radiation. Astronauts can also lose bone density, thanks to a lack of gravity. NASA has even created a fun acronym for the issues: RIDGE, which stands for space radiation, isolation and confinement, distance from Earth, gravity fields, and hostile and closed environments.

New research adds to the worries by describing how being in space destroys your blood. Or rather, something about space—and we don’t know what just yet—causes the human body to perform hemolysis at a higher rate than back on Earth.

This phenomenon, called space anemia, has been well-studied. It’s part of a suite of problems that astronauts face when they come back to terra firma, which is how Guy Trudel—one of the paper’s authors and a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Ottawa Hospital—got involved. “[W]hen the astronauts return from space, they are very much like the patients we admit in rehab,” he told Ars.

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#anemia, #blood, #hemolysis, #rehabilitation, #science, #space, #space-anemia

Rocket Report: Neutron may land in Virginia; it’s to be Starship for Starlink

Grainy photograph of smoke-haloed rocket.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is seen returning to Earth after its 10th flight to space. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Ars Technica)

Welcome to Edition 4.28 of the Rocket Report! As I write this introduction, I’m watching Virgin Orbit’s livestream for its “Above the Clouds” mission, and the company’s LauncherOne vehicle has successfully reached orbit. All systems appeared to be nominal through stage separation, with great views from the rocket as the payload fairing broke away. This makes three successful missions in a row for the company after an initial failure in May 2020—pretty darn impressive.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

A short’s take on Astra is brutal. When space companies go public, they can often raise a lot of capital, quickly. But going the route of a Special Purpose Acquisition Company also opens a company’s record and financials up to much greater scrutiny. Part of the process, too, allows traders to “short” a stock by betting that its value will fall. For Astra Space, one of the financial firms shorting the stock is Kerrisdale Capital, which recently published its rationale for doing so in a report titled Headed for Dis-Astra.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

A very common virus may be the trigger for multiple sclerosis

This photomicrograph depicts leukemia cells that contain Epstein Barr virus using an FA staining technique, 1972. Epstein-Barr virus, EBV, is a member of the Herpesvirus family and is one of the most common human viruses.

Enlarge / This photomicrograph depicts leukemia cells that contain Epstein Barr virus using an FA staining technique, 1972. Epstein-Barr virus, EBV, is a member of the Herpesvirus family and is one of the most common human viruses. (credit: Getty | CDC)

Evidence is mounting that a garden-variety virus that sometimes causes mono in teens is the underlying cause of multiple sclerosis, a rare neurological disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, stripping away protective insulation around nerve cells, called myelin.

It’s still unclear how exactly the virus—the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)—may trigger MS and why MS develops in a tiny fraction of people. About 95 percent of adults have been infected with EBV, which often strikes in childhood. MS, meanwhile, often develops between the ages of 20 and 40 and is estimated to affect around one million people in the US. Yet, years of evidence have consistently pointed to links between the childhood virus and the chronic demyelinating disease later in life.

With a study published today in Science, the link is stronger than ever, and outside experts say the new findings offer further “compelling” evidence that EBV isn’t just connected to MS; it’s an essential trigger for the disease. The study found, among other things, that people had a 32-fold increase in risk of developing MS following an EBV infection in early adulthood.

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#b-cells, #ebv, #epstein-barr-virus, #immune-system, #immunology, #infection, #ms, #multiple-sclerosis, #myelin, #neurological-disease, #science

Supreme Court on vaccine mandates: Hospitals OK, general employment a no

Statuary and facade outside neoclassical federal building.

(credit: Getty Images)

The Biden administration has made vaccine mandates central to its attempts to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Or at least it has tried to; various states and other organizations have used the courts to challenge the federal government’s authority to impose these mandates. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding two of the most significant mandates: one for all hospital workers issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and a second for all employees of large companies issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

By the time the cases were argued before the Supreme Court, the HHS rule was already blocked by a stay issued by a lower court. By contrast, the OSHA rules had seen a lower court lift earlier stays, leaving it on the verge of enforcement.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued expedited rules that reflected the tone of the questioning the week before. The OSHA rule is now subject to a stay that blocks its implementation, a decision that saw the court’s three liberal justices issue a dissent. The stay against the HHS rules, by contrast, was lifted, but only by a close 5-4 ruling.

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#covid-19, #pandemic, #policy, #public-health, #science, #supreme-court, #vaccine-mandates, #vaccines

2021 obeyed physics, was one of the warmest years on record

2021 obeyed physics, was one of the warmest years on record

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

We are still in the midst of running a dangerous experiment on Earth’s climate system, and we get to periodically check in on the results—like laboratory rats peering at the graphs on a whiteboard across the room. And it’s that time again.

Every year, global temperature can be compared to the predictions born of the physics of greenhouse gases. A number of groups around the world maintain global surface temperature datasets. Because of their slightly differing methods for calculating the global average and slightly differing sets of temperature measurements fed into that calculation, these datasets don’t always arrive at exactly the same answer. Lean in close enough and you’ll see differences in the data points, which can translate into differences in their respective rankings of the warmest years. The big picture, on the other hand, looks exactly the same across them.

NASA, NOAA, and the Berkeley Earth group each released their end-of-year data for 2021 today, while the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) numbers were already out. They all came up with similar rankings this year. All but ECMWF placed it as the sixth warmest year on record, while ECMWF ranked it in fifth place. It was very close to 2015 and 2018, so fifth through seventh are roughly tied. What is true for all of the datasets is that the last seven years are the warmest seven years on record.

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#climate-change, #global-temperature, #science

Ancient Peruvians partied hard, spiked their beer with hallucinogens to win friends

A vessel from the Wari site of Conchopata features the tree and its tell-tale seed pods sprouting from the head of the Staff God.

Enlarge / A vessel from the Wari site of Conchopata features the tree and its tell-tale seed pods sprouting from the head of the Staff God. (credit: J. Ochatoma Paravicino/M.E. Biwer et al., 2022)

Lacing the beer served at their feasts with hallucinogens may have helped an ancient Peruvian people known as the Wari forge political alliances and expand their empire, according to a new paper published in the journal Antiquity. Recent excavations at a remote Wari outpost called Quilcapampa unearthed seeds from the vilca tree that can be used to produce a potent hallucinogenic drug. The authors think the Wari held one big final blowout before the site was abandoned.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first finding of vilca at a Wari site where we can get a glimpse of its use,” co-author Matthew Biwer, an archaeobotanist at Dickinson College, told Gizmodo. “Vilca seeds or residue has been found in burial tombs before, but we could only assume how it was used. These findings point to a more nuanced understanding of Wari feasting and politics and how vilca was implicated in these practices.”

The Wari empire lasted from around 500 CE to 1100 CE in the central highlands of Peru. There is some debate among scholars as to whether the network of roadways linking various provincial cities constituted a bona fide empire as opposed to a loose economic network. But the Wari’s construction of complex, distinctive architecture and the 2013 discovery of an imperial royal tomb lend credence to the Wari’s empire status. The culture began to decline around 800 CE, largely due to drought. Many central buildings were blocked up, suggesting people thought they might return if the rains did, and there is archaeological evidence of possible warfare and raiding in the empire’s final days as the local infrastructure collapsed and supply chains failed.

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#archaeology, #beer, #chemistry, #gaming-culture, #hallucinogens, #history, #science, #wari

With Thursday’s launch, SpaceX continues to increase cadence of booster reuse

The Transporter 3 mission is on the launch pad and ready to go.

Enlarge / The Transporter 3 mission is on the launch pad and ready to go. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

SpaceX will seek to launch its “Transporter-3” mission into low Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday morning.

The rocket has a 29-minute launch window, which opens at 10:25 am ET (15:25 UTC), and weather conditions are forecast to be fair. This will be the company’s third rideshare mission in which it uses its Falcon 9 rocket to compete with small satellite launch companies.

For this mission, the rocket will launch 105 different spacecraft. Among them are 44 “SuperDove” satellites for Planet, which the company said will replenish its current constellation, which images every landmass on Earth every day. The varied manifest includes CubeSats, microsats, PocketQubes, and orbital transfer vehicles for a mix of government and commercial customers. The satellites will be deployed over about a 90-minute period.

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#falcon-9, #science, #spacex

Immune system vs. virus: Why omicron had experts worried from the start

Illustration of antibodies responding to an infection of SARS-CoV-2.

Enlarge / Illustration of antibodies responding to an infection of SARS-CoV-2. (credit: Getty Images/Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library)

Right from omicron’s first description, researchers were concerned about the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Looking over the list of mutations it carried, scientists could identify a number that would likely make the variant more infectious. Other mutations were even more worrying, as they would likely interfere with the immune system’s ability to recognize the virus, allowing it to pose a risk to those who had been vaccinated or suffered from previous infections.

Buried in the subtext of these worries was a clear implication: Scientists could simply look at the sequence of amino acids in the spike protein of a coronavirus and get a sense of how well the immune system would respond to it.

That knowledge is based on years of studying how the immune system operates, combined with a lot of specific information regarding its interactions with SARS-CoV-2. What follows is a description of these interactions, along with their implications for viral evolution and present and future variants.

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#antibodies, #b-cells, #biology, #covid-19, #immunology, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #t-cells, #vaccines

CDC to update advice on best masks—but just wants you to wear one, any of them

A masked woman in a business suit.

Enlarge / Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Shawn Thew)

As cases of the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant continue to increase in the US, many experts have pushed for Americans to upgrade their masks to better protect themselves—i.e., ditch the handmade cloth masks that were fashionable in spring 2020 for options like the high-quality N95s and KN95s that are now more available.

Taking note of the shift, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that it is working to update the mask guidance on its website, which hasn’t been refreshed since last fall, prior to omicron’s rise. Meanwhile, the White House is actively considering providing high-quality masks to Americans.

In a press briefing Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients offered little detail on what a federal mask distribution program might look like or when it could come, noting only, “We’re in the process right now of strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans.”

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#cdc, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #masks, #public-health, #science, #white-house

Ships from 1,581 ports may go to Antarctica, bringing unwanted guests

Tourist boats could potentially bring invasive species to the Antarctic region.

Enlarge / Tourist boats could potentially bring invasive species to the Antarctic region. (credit: Andrew Peacock)

Right now, the Antarctic and the waters around it are surprisingly free of invasive species. According to new research, however, that situation might change in the not-too-distant future, thanks to a shocking level of connectivity with ports across the world. Ships can accidentally carry a large array of marine life, which can in turn colonize new places (like the world’s polar south), outcompete native life, and generally wreak havoc on an ecosystem. New research has traced the paths of the various research vessels, tourist ships, and fishing boats that chug along through the icy waters of the Antarctic.

According to Arlie McCarthy, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the British Antarctic Survey, these watercraft all carry with them a risk of unwanted visitors. And the visitors may have more chances to relocate than we once thought.

“We know from other cold areas in the world, including the Arctic, that things growing on the hulls of ships absolutely do get transported from place to place, and it is one of the major sources of marine introductions around the world,” McCarthy told Ars. “We also know that ships going into Antarctica do have things growing on them. What we didn’t know until this point was good detail on where those ships go.”

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#antarctic, #climate-change, #invasive-species, #research-vessels, #science, #shipping, #southern-ocean, #tourism

High-speed rail construction reveals Roman town in the UK

aerial photo of archaeological site

Enlarge / Aerial shots with drone of Blackgrounds Roman archaeological site. (credit: HS2)

Archaeologists surveying the planned route of a high-speed railway between London and Birmingham in the UK unearthed the remains of a Roman trading town in what is now South Northamptonshire.

At its height, the town boasted an assortment of workshops and businesses, with long-buried foundations that archaeologists have spent the past year carefully unearthing from the site’s dark—almost black—soil. Artifacts at the site, from jewelry and finely made ceramics to more than 300 Roman coins, hint at ancient affluence. According to archaeologists with the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) Headland Infrastructure, most of that wealth probably came from trade along the nearby River Cherwell or the 10-meter-wide stone-paved Roman road running through the middle of the town.

“It indicates that the settlement would have been very busy, with carts simultaneously coming and going to load and unload goods,” said MOLA Headland Infrastructure in a statement.

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#ancient-rome, #archaeology, #iron-age-europe, #roman-britain, #roman-empire, #science

New images of the International Space Station reveal that it is still a jewel

The International Space Station, as seen in November 2021. Prominent at center in this view are the cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter.

Enlarge / The International Space Station, as seen in November 2021. Prominent at center in this view are the cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter. (credit: NASA)

The International Space Station is now more than two decades old. And while primary construction of the orbiting laboratory ended a little more than a decade ago, before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle, the station has continued to evolve with smaller modules and an ever-changing array of visiting spacecraft.

Over this time the station has begun to show its age, being exposed to the extreme hot and cold temperatures of space, a vacuum environment, and micrometeoroid debris. For more than 20 years, these harsh conditions have worn on the station, inducing stress fractures and other damage.

Following the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA lost the ability to fly humans around the station to catalog these changes with highly detailed photographs. But thanks to the emergence of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, astronauts have started circumnavigating the station once again after undocking and before heading home.

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#iss, #nasa, #science, #space

Radio astronomers scouring the archives spotted black hole devouring a star

Artist's conception of a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE) -- a star being shredded by the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole. Material from the star spirals into a disk rotating around the black hole, and a jet of particles is ejected.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE) — a star being shredded by the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole. Material from the star spirals into a disk rotating around the black hole, and a jet of particles is ejected.

There are decades of radio astronomy data in the archives of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and there are still new discoveries lurking within it. Astronomers have spotted the telltale signature jet from a black hole devouring a star several decades ago in archival data collected by the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope in New Mexico. According to a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, it’s only the second such candidate event discovered in the radio regime; the first was discovered in 2020. The discovery was presented virtually yesterday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

As we’ve reported previously, it’s a popular misconception that black holes behave like cosmic vacuum cleaners, ravenously sucking up any matter in their surroundings. In reality, only stuff that passes beyond the event horizon—including light—is swallowed up and can’t escape, although black holes are also messy eaters. That means that part of an object’s matter is actually ejected in a powerful jet.

If that object is a star, the process of being shredded (or “spaghettified”) by the powerful gravitational forces of a black hole occurs outside the event horizon, and part of the star’s original mass is ejected violently outward. This in turn can form a rotating ring of matter (aka an accretion disk) around the black hole that emits powerful X-rays and visible light—and sometimes radio waves. Those jets are one way astronomers can indirectly infer the presence of a black hole. They’re known as “tidal disruption events” (TDEs). 

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#astronomy, #black-holes, #physics, #radio-astronomy, #science, #tidal-disruption-events

FDA head: Omicron is a “natural disaster… most people are gonna get COVID”

A masked woman with a gray bob.

Enlarge / Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Getty | Shawn Thew)

US officials are comparing the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant to a natural disaster as the country continues to shatter records, logging over 1.4 million new COVID-19 cases Monday and seeing hospitalizations at all-time highs of over 140,000.

Officials are now bracing for the weeks ahead, which are expected to bring yet higher numbers of cases that will hamstring health care systems and other essential services nationwide.

“I think that we’re talking about a natural disaster,” Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food Drug Administration, said in a Senate Health Committee hearing Tuesday. “I think right now, we need to focus on continuity of operations for hospitals and other essential services as this variant sweeps through the population.”

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#cases, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #hospitalizations, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #woodcock

Pig heart transplanted to human for the first time

Image of surgeons surrounding a patient.

Enlarge / The transplant team with the replacement heart. (credit: The transplant team with the replacement heart.)

On Monday, the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced that its staff had done the first transplant of a pig’s heart into a human. The patient who received it had end-stage heart disease and was too sick to qualify for the standard transplant list. Three days after the procedure, the patient was still alive.

The idea of using non-human organs as replacements for damaged human ones—called xenotransplantation—has a long history, inspired by the fact that there are more people on organ waiting lists than there are donors. And, in recent years, our ability to do targeted gene editing has motivated people to start genetically modifying pigs in order to make them better donors. But the recent surgery wasn’t part of a clinical trial, so it shouldn’t be viewed as an indication that this approach is ready for widespread safety and efficacy testing.

Instead, the surgery was authorized by the FDA under its “compassionate use” access program. This allows those faced with life-threatening illnesses to receive investigational treatments that haven’t gone through rigorous clinical testing yet.

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#biology, #gene-editing, #medicine, #science, #transplants, #xenotransplants

Did a large impact remix the Moon’s interior?

Image of a red and green sphere with a large blue oval in the center.

Enlarge / The blue area is the basin formed by the largest impact on the Moon. Additional craters have formed by subsequent impacts. (credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona)

As the Moon coalesced from the debris of an impact early in the Solar System’s history, the steady stream of orbital impacts is thought to have formed a magma ocean, leaving the body liquid. That should have allowed its components to mix evenly, creating a roughly uniform body. But with the onset of space exploration, we were finally able to get our first good look at the far side of the Moon.

It turned out to look quite different from the side we were familiar with, with very little in the way of the dark regions, called mare, that dominate the side facing Earth. These differences are also reflected in the chemical composition of the rocks on the different sides. If the whole Moon was once a well-mixed blob of magma, how did it end up with such a major difference between two of its faces? A new study links this difference to the Moon’s largest impact crater.

A big crash

The South Pole-Aitken Basin is one of the largest impact craters in the Solar System, but again, we didn’t realize it was there until after we put a craft in orbit around the Moon. All we can see from Earth are some of the ridges that are part of the outer crater wall. Most of the 2,500 kilometers of the crater itself extend into the far side of the Moon.

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#astronomy, #geology, #impact-crater, #moon, #planetary-science, #science

Doctors fear health care collapse amid omicron surge

Emergency workers as seen through a window.

Enlarge / A medical worker in PPE works with a patient with Covid-19 in a negative pressure room in the ICU ward at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts on January 4, 2022. The hospital says it is overflowing with patients and doesn’t have many beds left. (credit: Getty | Joseph Prezioso)

Hospitals nationwide are once again buckling under the strain of COVID-19 cases as the ultratransmissible omicron wave crashes into health care systems that are already critically short-staffed and exhausted from previous waves of the pandemic.

The current situation is forcing states and hospitals to declare emergencies, deploy the National Guard, delay or cancel elective procedures, institute crisis standards of care, and allow health providers to stay at work even if they themselves are positive for COVID-19 because there is no one available to take their place. Together, the situation has some doctors openly worrying that the omicron wave will cause some systems to collapse in the coming weeks.

“The comforting news that this variant generally causes milder disease overlooks the unfolding tragedy happening on the front lines,” Craig Spencer, an emergency medicine physician and director of global health in emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece Monday.

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#coronavirus, #covid-19, #hospitalizations, #hospitals, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science

Gruesome Viking “blood eagle” ritual is anatomically possible, study finds

Thorbjørn Harr played Jarl Borg of Götaland in the first two seasons of the History Channel series <em>Vikings</em>. Spoiler alert: He met with a gruesome death via the legendary "blood eagle" ritual. The ritual may have been a myth, but a new study shows it is anatomically possible.

Enlarge / Thorbjørn Harr played Jarl Borg of Götaland in the first two seasons of the History Channel series Vikings. Spoiler alert: He met with a gruesome death via the legendary “blood eagle” ritual. The ritual may have been a myth, but a new study shows it is anatomically possible. (credit: History Channel)

The History Channel series Vikings is a fictional account of legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), who was born a farmer and became a Scandinavian king. Early in the series, a rival leader named Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr) of nearby Götaland leads an attack on Ragnar’s men and even convinces Ragnar’s brother to betray him. Borg doesn’t get an easy death when his schemes ultimately fail and he is captured. Ragnar performs the blóðǫrn (“blood eagle”) on Borg, a gruesome process of ritualized torture and execution allegedly carried out during the Viking Age (c. 750–1050).

The series prides itself on being as historically accurate as possible, which is a challenge, given that much of what we know about the Viking Age comes from epic poems telling of their achievements in spoken form, finally written down centuries later. That’s especially the case with the blood eagle ritual, which has long been dismissed as mere legend—whether because of repeated misunderstandings during translations of the poems or perhaps a desire by Christian scholars to portray the pagan Vikings as barbaric.

(Warning: some graphic anatomical descriptions follow.)

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#anatomy, #archaeology, #gaming-culture, #human-anatomy, #science, #vikings

3D printing could make OLED laptops, phones cheaper

This 64-pixel OLED panel was 3D printed.

Enlarge / This 64-pixel OLED panel was 3D printed.

Laptops and phones with OLED displays boast rich colors at high contrasts—but they come at a premium price. Researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (UMN) say they’ve found a potential solution to that price barrier by using a 3D printer that could eventually lead to people making their own OLED screens at home.

In a study published in Science Advances on Fridaythe researchers used a custom-built printer that fits on a table and “costs about the same as a Tesla Model S,” Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and senior author of the study, said in a statement accompanying UMN’s announcement.

While OLED panels are typically made in large microfabrication facilities by big companies like LG Display, the research could eventually result in hobbyists being able to make cheap OLED panels in their own workshops, according to the university.

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#3d-printing, #oled, #science, #tech

All hail the Ariane 5 rocket, which doubled the Webb telescope’s lifetime

The Ariane 5 rocket, with the James Webb Space Telescope, at its launch site in French Guiana.

Enlarge / The Ariane 5 rocket, with the James Webb Space Telescope, at its launch site in French Guiana. (credit: ESA/S. Corvaja)

There were two stunningly good pieces of news about the James Webb Space Telescope this weekend. One was widely reported—that after an intricate, two-week process, the telescope completed its deployment without any difficulties. The next steps toward science operations are more conventional.

The other piece of news, less well-covered but still important, emerged during a news conference on Saturday. NASA’s Mission Systems Engineer for the Webb telescope, Mike Menzel, said the agency had completed its analysis of how much “extra” fuel remained on board the telescope. Roughly speaking, Menzel said, Webb has enough propellant on board for 20 years of life.

This is twice the conservative pre-launch estimate for Webb’s lifetime of a decade, and it largely comes down to the performance of the European Ariane 5 rocket that launched Webb on a precise trajectory on Christmas Day.

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#ariane-5, #james-webb, #science, #space

Remarkably, NASA has completed deployment of the Webb space telescope

A scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope.

A scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope. (credit: NASA)

For much of the world, Saturday was just another weekend day filled with all of this planet’s problems and perils. The Omicron-fueled pandemic raged around the globe. New York emerged from its first snowstorm of the season. Turmoil continued in Kazakhstan and elsewhere

But in space. In space. On Saturday, in space, there was a great triumph.

After a quarter century of effort by tens of thousands of people, more than $10 billion in taxpayer funding, and some 350 deployment mechanisms that had to go just so, the James Webb Space Telescope fully unfurled its wings. The massive spacecraft completed its final deployments and, by God, the process went smoothly.

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#james-webb, #science, #space

Astronomers discover a strange galaxy without dark matter

Astronomers mapped out the stars (shown here in blue) and gas (green) of the strange galaxy known as AGC 114905.

Enlarge / Astronomers mapped out the stars (shown here in blue) and gas (green) of the strange galaxy known as AGC 114905. (credit: Javier Román and Pavel Mancera Piña)

Three years ago, Filippo Fraternali and his colleagues spotted a half dozen mysteriously diffuse galaxies, which looked like sprawling cities of stars and gas. But unlike almost every other galaxy ever seen—including our own Milky Way—they didn’t seem to be enshrouded in huge masses of dark matter, which would normally hold those stellar metropolises together with their gravity. The scientists picked one to zoom in on, a modest-sized galaxy about 250,000 light-years away, and they pointed the 27 radio telescope antennas of the Very Large Array in New Mexico at it.

After gathering 40 hours’ worth of data, they mapped out the stars and gas and confirmed what the earlier snapshots had hinted at: “The dark matter content that we infer in this galaxy is much, much smaller than what you would expect,” says Fraternali, an astronomer at Kapteyn Astronomical Institute of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. If the team or their competitors find other such galaxies, it could pose a challenge for scientists’ view of dark matter, the dominant perspective in the field for at least 20 years. Fraternali and his team published their findings in December in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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#astronomy, #dark-matter, #physics, #science

CDC head talks screwups, 4th doses, omicron’s wave in long-awaited briefing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday held its first COVID-19 press briefing in over a year. The briefing covered a wide range of pandemic-related topics, from the rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases to the trajectory of the omicron wave and the agency’s own missteps in communicating with the public.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky fielded most of the questions herself during the roughly 35-minute phone conference, as reporter after reporter expressed the need for more briefings and thanked her for being available today. Walensky noted that she had been in over 80 COVID-19 briefings held by the White House. However, the CDC had not given its own briefing on its pandemic-related work since January 6, 2021.

In the intervening year, the CDC has experienced periodic missteps and has taken heavy criticism for muddled messaging around ever-evolving pandemic guidance. The latest such episode unfolded last week after the agency said that certain individuals infected with COVID-19 could leave isolation periods early without having to test negative. The agency has stood by the decision, despite science-based criticisms and concerns that the CDC’s decision was influenced by political interests, namely avoiding the problem of test shortages.

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#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #delta, #infectious-disease, #omicron, #public-health, #science, #walensky

Entangled microwave photons may give 500x boost to radar

Entangled microwave photons may give 500x boost to radar

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

Quantum radar has been on the… ahem… radar for a while now. Unfortunately, the theoretical and practical results from our explorations of the concept have been underwhelming. But before we get to the disappointments, let me give all you radar enthusiasts a reason for hope. A new paper demonstrates that, under conditions of low signal-to-noise ratios (at the edge of the radar’s classical range), employing quantum technologies may offer a very significant boost in accuracy.

Quantum radar?

Radar, at its simplest, involves sending out pulses of radiation that reflect off an object. The reflected signal is detected, and the time of flight is measured. The time of flight is then translated into a range, while the direction that the radar antenna was pointed when it picked up the reflection tells us the direction.

The horrible thing about radar is that the signal drops off very rapidly—as the fourth power of the distance. This is because the power of the radiation we send out drops as the square of the distance between the transmitter and the object. And then it drops as the square of the range again after it’s reflected and has to travel back to the receiver. You get clobbered by the inverse square rule twice.

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#physics, #quantum-entanglement, #quantum-mechanics, #quantum-radar, #radar, #science

Biden’s vaccine mandates come before the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court building in Washington DC.

Enlarge / The US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Mike Kline)

On Friday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that could severely limit the federal government’s ability to set public health policy during the pandemic. At issue is whether existing health and safety authority given to federal agencies by Congress is broad enough to cover the pandemic or whether Congress needs to step in and explicitly authorize the agencies’ actions.

The arguments occur as the US sees an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases. Indeed, two of the state lawyers arguing against these new public health measures were caught up in that surge and had to participate in the hearings remotely.

For and against

Two separate cases are being heard today, both regarding executive actions taken by the Biden administration. The first case involves a rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), covering all health care workers at facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid. The rule requires these workers to be vaccinated unless they are exempted on medical or religious grounds. The second case involves a vaccine-or-test mandate issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); the mandate would apply to any businesses with 100 or more employees.

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#government, #mandate, #policy, #science, #supreme-court, #vaccines

Rocket Report: SpaceX raises more cash, Buy your own New Glenn

The James Webb Space Telescope lifts off from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25.

Enlarge / The James Webb Space Telescope lifts off from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25. (credit: ESA – S. Corvaja)

Welcome to Edition 4.27 of the Rocket Report! And after two weeks away, the Rocket Report is back. I’d like to say I’m tanned, rested, and ready, but hey, one out of three isn’t bad. Anyway, there’s a ton of news to report after the holiday hiatus, so let’s jump right into it.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Ukrainian investor asked to divest from Firefly. The US government has requested that Max Polyakov, a wealthy Ukrainian tech entrepreneur, sell his stake in the rocket company Firefly Aerospace Inc., Bloomberg reports. The military cited national security concerns in making the request. Polyakov backed Firefly with $200 million in 2017 after the company declared bankruptcy and is credited with turning the company around. Polyakov had already stepped back from the company’s board of directors a year ago

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Study: 1960 ramjet design for interstellar travel—a sci-fi staple—is unfeasible

Artist's impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of the Ramjet propulsion system proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert W. Bussard (credit: NASA)

In Poul Anderson’s 1970 novel Tau Zero, a starship crew seeks to travel to the star Beta Virginis in hopes of colonizing a new planet. The ship’s mode of propulsion was a so-called “Bussard ramjet,” an actual (though hypothetical) means of propulsion which had been proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard just a decade earlier. Now, physicists have revisited this unusual mechanism for interstellar travel in a new paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and alas, they have found the ramjet wanting. It’s feasible from a pure physics standpoint, but the associated engineering challenges are currently insurmountable, the authors concluded.

A ramjet is basically a jet engine that “breathes” air. The best analog for the fundamental mechanism is that it exploits the engine’s forward motion to compress incoming air without the need for compressors, making ramjet engines lighter and simpler than their turbojet counterparts. A French inventor named Rene Lorin received a patent in 1913 for his concept of ramjet (aka, a flying stovepipe), although he failed to build a viable prototype. Two years later, Albert Fonó proposed a ramjet propulsion unit to increase the range of gun-launched projectiles and eventually was granted a German patent in 1932.

A basic ramjet has three components: an air intake, a combustor, and a nozzle. Hot exhaust from fuel combustion flows through the nozzle. The pressure of the combustion must be higher than the pressure at the exit of the nozzle in order to maintain a steady flow, which a ramjet engine achieves by “ramming” external air into the combustor with the forward speed of whatever vehicle is being powered by the engine. There is no need to carry oxygen on board. The downside is that ramjets can only produce thrust if the vehicle is already moving, so they require an assisted takeoff using rockets. As such, ramjets are most useful as a means of acceleration, such as for ramjet-powered missiles or for increasing the range of artillery shells.

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#bussard-ramjet, #gaming-culture, #interstellar-travel, #physics, #ramjet-propulsion, #science, #science-fiction

Omicron is not mild and is crushing health care systems worldwide, WHO warns

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty| Fabrice Coffrini)

The World Health Organization on Thursday pushed back against the consistent chatter that the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus is “mild,” noting that the variant is causing a “tsunami of cases” that is “overwhelming health systems around the world.”

“While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta—especially in those vaccinated—it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,'” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing Thursday. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people, and it is killing people.”

The warning comes as the US is still experiencing a vertical rise in cases and hospitalizations from the quick-spreading variant. In the week ending on January 1, omicron was estimated to account for 95 percent of all cases in the US, according to the latest analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The delta variant, which was making up over 99 percent of US cases as recently as the week ending on December 4, has now been relegated to just 5 percent of cases.

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#cases, #coronavirus, #hospitalizations, #infections, #omicron, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variant, #who

Moonfall trailer is gloriously ridiculous

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson co-star in director Roland Emmerich’s latest film, Moonfall.

Hello, police? I’d like to report a murder—the sacrifice of credible science on the altar of entertainment, as evidenced in the latest trailer for Moonfall. It’s the latest epic disaster blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich, in which the Earth’s existence is threatened by the Moon getting knocked out of its orbit and into a collision course toward Earth.

Look, I love me some Roland Emmerich. Independence Day (1996) is top-notch entertainment, and while his Godzilla (1998) was widely panned by critics, it featured a world-weary Jean Reno as a French scientist constantly bemoaning the lack of decent coffee in America, which was worth the price of admission alone. But in recent years, the director has pivoted to what can only be called climate-change inspired “disaster p*rn,” with over-the-top films like 2009’s 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Both films made big bucks at the box office, despite mixed critical reviews and dings for their sloppy use of science. In fact, The Day After Tomorrow frequently winds up on people’s lists of most scientifically inaccurate films. That’s not a deal-breaker so long as the film is entertaining. As screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff pointed out at the film’s Berlin premiere, “This is a disaster movie and not a scientific documentary, [and] the film makers have taken a lot of artistic license.” Thus far, Emmerich has shown a talent for pushing an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief to the limit without crossing the line into utter ridiculousness (or at least, audiences will be having so much fun, they’ll cheer on the ridiculous aspects with glee).

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #lionsgate, #moonfall, #physics, #roland-emmerich, #science

Two research teams independently used vacuums to measure biodiversity

Two research teams independently used vacuums to measure biodiversity

Enlarge (credit: Surapong Thammabuht / EyeEm)

Just as the pandemic hit, Christina Islas Lynggaard—a postdoc researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Globe Institute—sat in her apartment surrounded by vacuums and filters. She tested them, eventually landing on a water vacuum, which was, for her purposes, pretty good. The rest didn’t quite make the cut—they had good suction, but the second you put a filter in them, it messed with their power supplies. “It just dies, and then the motor comes to overheat, and it was very difficult,” Lynggaard said.

All this testing was done for an interesting case, one that seems obvious in hindsight but could have valuable ecological applications. In short, Lynggaard and other researchers on her team were looking for a way to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) from the air to measure biodiversity or look for the presence of rare or invasive species.

Out of thin air

“We had no idea the best way to collect DNA from air,” Kristine Bohmann told Ars. Bohmann is an associate professor at the Globe Institute and one of the researchers involved in the effort.

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#biodiversity, #biomonitoring, #dna, #edna, #environmental-dna, #science, #vacuum

Report finds that US accounts for more than half of global space spending

Change in government space budgets over time.

Enlarge / Change in government space budgets over time. (credit: Euroconsult)

Nations around the world spent a total of $92 billion on the “space sector” in 2021, the market intelligence firm Euroconsult reports. This represents an 8 percent increase in spending from the year 2020.

In the latest edition of the report “Government Space Programs,” the consulting firm says that civilian space activities accounted for $53 billion of the spending, and defense activities $39 billion. However the report noted that the proportion of defense spending is increasing.

“Geopolitical tensions, increasing rivalry between leading space powers, and the value of space as the ultimate high ground drive the militarization of space trend, with leaders increasing their investments in defense space assets and technologies,” a news release about the report states.

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#budgets, #nasa, #science, #space, #space-force

Stars from ancient cluster found in the Milky Way

Oval depicting the Milky Way, including traces that follow star motions.

Enlarge / Scientists have used the data from Gaia to track the location and motion of stars in our galaxy. (credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Galaxies like the Milky Way are thought to have been built through a series of mergers, drawing in smaller galaxies and clusters of stars and making these foreign stars their own. In some cases, the mergers were recent enough that we can still detect the formerly independent object as a cluster of stars orbiting the Milky Way together. But, as time goes on, interactions with the rest of the stars in the Milky Way will slowly disrupt any structures the cluster incorporates.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that researchers found what appear to be the remains of a globular cluster composed of some of the oldest stars around. The finding is consistent with a “growth through merger” model of galaxy construction, but it raises questions about how the cluster stayed intact for as long as it did.

Data-mining Gaia

The results started with an analysis of data from the ESA’s Gaia mission, which set out to do nothing less than map the Milky Way in three dimensions. Gaia imaged roughly a billion objects dozens of times, enough to estimate both their location and their motion around the Milky Way’s core. This map has helped scientists identify structures within our galaxy based on the fact that there are some groups of stars that are not only physically close to each other, but all moving in the same direction.

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#astronomy, #gaia, #galaxies, #science, #star-clusters

Written in the bones: Medieval skeletons tell story of social inequality in Cambridge

The remains of an individual buried in an Augustinian friary, excavated in 2016 on the University of Cambridge's New Museums site.

Enlarge / The remains of an individual buried in an Augustinian friary, excavated in 2016 on the University of Cambridge’s New Museums site.

There’s rarely time to write about every cool science-y story that comes our way. So this year, we’re once again running a special Twelve Days of Christmas series of posts, highlighting one science story that fell through the cracks in 2020, each day from December 25 through January 5. Our final post in the 2021 series: Skeletal remains excavated from medieval sites in Cambridge reveal occupational and social disparities in the population.

A working class woman who suffered from domestic violence. A friar who may have been the victim of a horse-and-cart hit-and-run. Those are just two examples of the remains of 314 people excavated from three very different medieval burial sites in Cambridge, England. The evidence of skeletal trauma on many of those remains sheds light on what medieval Cantabrigian lives were like, in terms of occupation, living conditions, and social status, according to a paper published last January in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The research stems from the After the Plague project at Cambridge University’s Department of Archaeology, which explores how historical conditions influence health and how health, in turn, shapes history. The project particularly focuses on the Black Death period (1347-1350 CE) in later medieval England, which wiped out between a third and a half of Europe’s population.

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#12-days-of-christmas, #bioarchaeology, #forensic-archaeology, #physical-anthropology, #science, #skeletal-trauma

CDC muddles message on rapid tests while defending controversial guidance

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate committee hearing in July 2021.

Enlarge / CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate committee hearing in July 2021. (credit: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday offered mixed messages on the use of at-home rapid tests as the agency continued to defend its controversial recommendation that people with COVID-19 can leave isolation early without testing.

The CDC updated its guidance on isolation and quarantine periods last week. It shortened isolation periods for infected people from 10 days down to only five if their symptoms have cleared or are resolving by then and if they wear a mask for five days afterward. Notably, the agency did not hinge the recommendation on people getting tested after five days and only ending their isolation early if they receive a negative result.

The omission drew swift criticism from experts who argue that testing is vital to shortening isolation periods safely. Harvard epidemiologist and rapid-test advocate Dr. Michael Mina called the move “reckless,” and virology expert Angela Rasmussen called the agency’s reasoning “bullshit.”

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#cdc, #covid, #science, #walensky

The launch of NASA’s titanic SLS rocket slips toward summer 2022

Space rocket construction in a mammoth hangar.

Enlarge / The launch-vehicle stage adapter for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is integrated with the core stage in June 2021. (credit: NASA)

NASA said Wednesday that it is now targeting “mid-February” for an initial rollout of the Space Launch System rocket to the launch pad.

The space agency set the new date after engineers and technicians successfully removed a faulty engine controller from one of the four space shuttle main engines that power the massive rocket. An engine controller is basically a flight computer that communicates between the engine and the rocket; this one had failed communication tests in late November.

At present, NASA engineers, alongside contractor teams who have built various components of the rocket, are working to complete all remaining SLS preflight diagnostic tests and hardware close-outs prior to rolling the fully stacked rocket to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

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#nasa, #science, #sls-rocket

First victim of the tsunami that trashed the Eastern Mediterranean found

First victim of the tsunami that trashed the Eastern Mediterranean found

Enlarge (credit: Sahoglu et al. 2021)

Archaeologists working in what is now western Turkey recently unearthed the rubble left behind by a series of powerful tsunamis that slammed into a Bronze Age city. The giant waves were triggered by the eruption of the volcano Thera on the island of Santorini, hundreds of kilometers away—a cataclysm that toppled the Minoan civilization and shook the rest of the ancient Mediterranean world.

Among the ruins left by the event in Çeşme-Bağlararası, Ankara University archaeologist Vasıf Sahoglu and his colleagues found the skeleton of a young man and a dog; they’re the only victims of the disaster ever found by archaeologists.

Going out with a bang

From around 2000 BCE to around 1450 BCE, the Minoan civilization was the dominant force in the Mediterranean. Its power and wealth came from seafaring and trade, and its cultural and economic influence stretched from its home island of Crete all the way to Egypt. But sometime between 1600 and 1500 BCE, a volcano called Thera, on what is now the island of Santorini (about 200 km north of Crete in the Aegean Sea), erupted violently.

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#akrotiri, #ancient-europe, #ancient-greece, #archaeology, #bronze-age, #minoans, #science, #thera, #tsunamis, #volcanic-eruptions

Virtual 3D models of ammonite fossils show their muscles for first time

Stylized image of nautilus-style creature.

Enlarge (credit: Lesley Cherns et al.)

Researchers created a highly detailed 3D model of a 365-million-year-old ammonite fossil from the Jurassic period by combining advanced imaging techniques, revealing internal muscles that have never been previously observed, according to a paper published last month in the journal Geology. Another paper published last month in the journal Papers in Paleontology reported on the creation of 3D virtual models of the armored plates from fossilized skeletons of two new species of ancient worms, dating from 400 million years ago.

The ammonite fossil used in the Geology study was discovered in 1998 at the Claydon Pike pit site in Gloucestershire, England, which mostly comprises poorly cemented sands, sandstone, and limestone. Plenty of fragmented mollusk shells are scattered throughout the site, but this particular specimen was remarkably intact, showing no signs of prolonged exposure via scavenging, shell encrustation, or of being exhumed from elsewhere and redeposited. The fossil is currently housed at the National Museum Wales, Cardiff.

“When I found the fossil, I immediately knew it was something special,” said co-author Neville Hollingworth, public engagement manager at the Science and Technology Facilities Council. “The shell split in two and the body of the fossil fell out revealing what looked like soft tissues. It is wonderful to finally know what these are through the use of state-of-the-art imaging techniques.”

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#12-days-of-christmas, #3d-virtual-models, #biology, #fossils, #geology, #micro-ct-imaging, #neutron-imaging, #paleobiology, #paleontology, #science

Tracking Facebook connections between parent groups and vaccine misinfo

Tracking Facebook connections between parent groups and vaccine misinfo

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Joe Amon)

Misinformation about the pandemic and the health measures that are effective against SARS-CoV-2 has been a significant problem in the US. It’s led to organized resistance against everything from mask use to vaccines and has undoubtedly ended up killing people.

Plenty of factors have contributed to this surge of misinformation, but social media clearly helps enable its spread. While the companies behind major networks have taken some actions to limit the spread of misinformation, internal documents indicate that a lot more could be done.

Taking more effective action, however, would benefit from more clearly identifying what the problems are. And, to that end, a recent analysis of the network of vaccine misinformation provides information that might be helpful. It finds that most of the worst misinformation sources are probably too small to stand out as being in need of moderation. The analysis also shows that the pandemic has brought mainstream parenting groups noticeably closer to groups devoted to conspiracy theories.

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#computer-science, #medicine, #misinformation, #pandemic, #science, #vaccines

Scientists train goldfish to drive a fish-operated vehicle on land

A photoshopped image shows a goldfish dreaming of a sports car.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Perhaps the favorite thing I wrote in all of 2019 was about a research study that taught rats to drive, an activity that the rats appeared to enjoy. Today, we have another tale of lab animals learning to drive, but this time the motorists in question weren’t mammals—they were goldfish, who learned how to drive a fish-operated vehicle in a terrestrial environment.

The very first question most people will ask at this point is “Why?” In the driving-rat study from 2019, the researchers were trying to study environmental stress, and driving is an activity that turned out to reduce stress levels in the rats. This study, conducted by Shachar Givon and colleagues at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and published in Behavioral Brain Research, aimed to discover something a little different.

Specifically, the idea was to see if the fishes’ navigation skills are universal and work in extremely unfamiliar environments, a concept known as domain transfer methodology. And you have to admit, driving a tank inside an enclosure in a research lab is a pretty unfamiliar environment for a goldfish.

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#cars, #domain-transfer-methodology, #driving, #fish-operated-vehicle, #goldfish, #science