Science

Science

Humans Threaten a Million Species With Extinction

Matt McGrath, writing at BBC News:

From the bees that pollinate our crops, to the forests that hold back flood waters, the report reveals how humans are ravaging the very ecosystems that support their societies.

Three years in the making, this global assessment of nature draws on 15,000 reference materials, and has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It runs to 1,800 pages.

The brief, 40-page “summary for policymakers”, published today at a meeting in Paris, is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how humans have treated their only home.

It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

Event Horizon Telescope Captures First-Ever Black Hole Image

The Washington Post:

The image was produced by the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of 10 radio telescopes spread across the planet and functioning as if it were a single receiver, one tuned to high-frequency radio waves. It represents a technical triumph for the scientists involved, and inaugurates a new era in the study of black holes, galaxy formation, and the laws of physics under extreme conditions.

The M87 black hole appears as a dark shadow within a doughnut-like ring of hot, glowing material.

I thought this video about the black hole was fantastic.

Modern Weather Forecasts Are Stunningly Accurate

Robinson Meyer, writing at The Atlantic:

Meteorologists have never gotten a shiny magazine cover or a brooding Aaron Sorkin film, and the weather-research hub of Norman, Oklahoma, is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Palo Alto. But over the past few decades, scientists have gotten significantly—even staggeringly—better at predicting the weather.

How much better? “A modern five-day forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was in 1980,” says a new paper, published last week in the journal Science. “Useful forecasts now reach nine to 10 days into the future.”

The Earliest Images of the Moon Were So Much Better Than We Knew

Ryan Smith, writing at World of Indie:

Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from. The main worry was the USSR gaining valuable information about landing sites that the US wanted to use.

The Fermi Paradox

Tim Urban, writing for Wait But Why:

Everyone feels something when they’re in a really good starry place on a really good starry night and they look up and see this:

Some people stick with the traditional, feeling struck by the epic beauty or blown away by the insane scale of the universe. Personally, I go for the old “existential meltdown followed by acting weird for the next half hour.” But everyone feels something.

Physicist Enrico Fermi felt something too—”Where is everybody?”

This is one of my favorite post on the internet, but I had never linked it here. Now I have. Highly recommended reading.

Hurricane Harvey

The New York Times:

Tropical Storm Harvey strengthened into a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico last week and made landfall northeast of Corpus Christi, Tex., around 9:45 p.m. on Friday. It was a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour. It then moved offshore before making landfall again on the shore of Copano Bay, this time as a Category 3 hurricane.

It brought devastating amounts of rain to an area that includes some of Texas’ most populous cities. It stretched along the state’s Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Houston, and inland to Austin and San Antonio. Parts of Louisiana were also expecting heavy rain.

A variety of resources and links to places you can donate to help can be found below.

Scientists Create First Mutant Ants

The Washington Post:

On Thursday, two independent research teams described their work deleting ant genes. Two papers chronicling the first mutant ants appeared in the journal Cell, along with a third study that altered ant behavior using an insect brain hormone.

Claude Desplan, a New York University biologist and an author of one of the studies, said that, as far as he could tell, these ants are “the first mutant in any social insect.”

This is how it starts.

How to Safely Enjoy the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Jason Kottke has put together a buyer’s guide for tools to safely enjoy the upcoming solar eclipse:

On August 21, 2017 across the entire United States, the Moon will move in front of the Sun, partially blocking it from our view. For those on the path of totality, the Moon will entirely block out the Sun for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been looking forward to seeing a total solar eclipse since I was a little kid, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on what to buy to enjoy the eclipse safely. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

I’ve oriented this guide toward the enthusiastic beginner, someone who’s excited about experiencing the wonder of the eclipse with their friends & family but isn’t interested in expensive specialty gear or photography (like me!). And, again, since you will be able to see this eclipse from everywhere in North America to some degree, this guide applies to anyone in the US/Canada/Mexico.

EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site

The Washington Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information. […]

The staffer described the process of reviewing the site as “a work in progress, but we can’t have information which contradicts the actions we have taken in the last two months,” adding that Pruitt’s aides had “found a number of instances of that so far” while surveying the site.

Yet the website overhaul appears to include not only policy-related changes but also scrutiny of a scientific Web page that has existed for nearly two decades, and that explained what climate change is and how it worked.

Yeah, if you hide the science that’ll stop it from being true.

NASA Telescope Reveals Exoplanet Discovery

NASA:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

If we discover life on other planets while Trump is in office, humanity will have definitely jumped the shark.

IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson

New York Times:

At the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Watson was tested on 1,000 cancer diagnoses made by human experts. In 99 percent of them, Watson recommended the same treatment as the oncologists.

In 30 percent of the cases, Watson also found a treatment option the human doctors missed. Some treatments were based on research papers that the doctors had not read — more than 160,000 cancer research papers are published a year. Other treatment options might have surfaced in a new clinical trial the oncologists had not yet seen announced on the web.

I had a “holy shit” moment reading this.

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun

Remember for the past 15 or so years whenever someone would bring up climate change and some jackass would talk about how it wasn’t real, or that it was no big deal? They were wrong.

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.

These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water.

The Story Behind Discovering Gravitational Waves

Nicola Twilley, writing for The New Yorker, with the behind the scenes look at the scientists that discovered gravitational waves exist:

The fact that gravitational waves were detected so early prompted confusion and disbelief. “I had told everyone that we wouldn’t see anything until 2017 or 2018,” Reitze said. Janna Levin, a professor of astrophysics at Barnard College and Columbia University, who is not a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was equally surprised. “When the rumors started, I was like, Come on!” she said. “They only just got it locked!” The signal, moreover, was almost too perfect. “Most of us thought that, when we ever saw such a thing, it would be something that you would need many, many computers and calculations to drag out of the noise,” Weiss said. Many of his colleagues assumed that the signal was some kind of test.