Science Tech Medical News


The Science, Technical, and Medical News of 2020 - from a variety of sources

Current Science Tech Medical News - click here

27 December 2020

The drug that gives 'instant immunity' to coronavirus?  UK trials new antibody therapy that can stop people who have been exposed to COVID becoming ill and it could save MILLIONS of lives across the globe

Drug would offer immediate and long-term protection to patients when it would be too late to offer a vaccine.  It could be given as an emergency treatment to hospital inpatients, care home residents and university students to help reduce the spread of the virus.

It is hoped that the treatment would provide protection from Covid-19 for between six months to a year.

The antibody, known as AZD7442, has been developed by the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has also created a vaccine with Oxford University that is awaiting approval for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

'We know that this antibody combination can neutralise the virus, so we hope to find that giving this treatment via injection can lead to immediate protection against the development of Covid-19 in people who have been exposed – when it would be too late to offer a vaccine.'

'If we can prove that this treatment works and prevent people who are exposed to the virus going on to develop Covid-19, it would be an exciting addition to the arsenal of weapons being developed to fight this dreadful virus.'

24 December 2020

Celebrating the holidays on the International Space Station

How many COVID-19 Vaccines Has Each Country Bought?

Noticeably absent are Russia and China.

22 December 2020

Giant iceberg A68a shatters into large fragments

The giant iceberg that's been drifting through the South Atlantic looks to have experienced a major break-up.  Tuesday's latest satellite imagery reveals major fissures in the tabular berg known as A68a, with huge blocks of ice starting to separate and move away from each other.  A68a, which calved from Antarctica in 2017, has been floating off the coast of South Georgia island.

16 December 2020

Mysterious Planet Nine discovery may be forthcoming after bizarre exoplanet found in deep space

Although scientists have yet to find the elusive Planet 9, a recently discovered exoplanet in deep space may provide further evidence the mysterious celestial object indeed exists.  The exoplanet HD 106906b is 336 light years from Earth and has a bizarre orbit around its pair of host stars, going around once every 15,000 years, according to a study published in The Astronomical Journal.

It was only recently, thanks to measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope, that scientists were able to see its elongated -- 730 times the distance between the Earth and the sun -- and inclined orbit, unlike any of the known planets in the Solar System.

"Despite the lack of detection of Planet Nine to date, the orbit of the planet can be inferred based on its effect on the various objects in the outer Solar System.  This suggests that if a planet was indeed responsible for what we observe in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects it should have an eccentric orbit inclined relative to the plane of the Solar System.  This prediction of the orbit of Planet Nine is similar to what we are seeing with HD 106906b."

In October 2017, NASA released a statement saying that Planet 9 might be 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune is, going so far as to say "it is now harder to imagine our solar system without a Planet 9 than with one."

14 December 2020

Virgin Galactic test flight aborted when computer 'lost connection'

A Virgin Galactic test flight Saturday ended prematurely as the spacecraft's rocket motor failed to ignite and it then glided down safely to its landing site in southern New Mexico.

"After being released from its mothership, the spaceship's onboard computer that monitors the rocket motor lost connection.  As designed, this triggered a fail-safe scenario that intentionally halted ignition of the rocket motor.  As we do with every test flight, we are evaluating all the data, including the root cause assessment of the computer communication loss.  We look forward to sharing information on our next flight window in the near future."

It's unclear how soon another window will open for Virgin Galactic's next attempt at a powered flight to space.

11 December 2020

Window opens for Virgin Galactic test flight from spaceport

The window opens Friday for Virgin Galactic's first rocket-powered test flight from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico as the company prepares for commercial flights next year.  The exact timing of the launch depends on the weather.  The company posted on social media late Thursday that the forecast wasn't optimal but it would continue monitoring the situation and fly when conditions are right.

Officials with Virgin Galactic and the state-financed spaceport said the test flight will mark another key milestone in the march toward commercial flights.  The impending flight will be the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico.

More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below.  The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before gliding to a landing.

The test flight will give Virgin Galactic an opportunity to evaluate the interior space of the cabin where customers will be seated and to check fight controls during boost.  The flight will carry payload belonging to NASA as part the space agency's Flight Opportunities Program.

10 December 2020

SpaceX Launches – and Crashes – Its Starship Mars Rocket

SpaceX successfully launched – and nearly landed – a fully-assembled prototype of its next generation Starship rocket on a suborbital flight from its facility in south Texas.  This is the rocket that Elon Musk hopes will soon carry humans to the moon and, eventually, to Mars, but Wednesday's launch was an uncrewed test flight that lasted just a few minutes.  The rocket flew to an altitude of 40,000 feet

The rocket performed what Musk has called a "belly flop" maneuver on its way back to earth, executed a controlled descent to the surface and righted itself just a few hundred feet above the ground.  But it wasn't able to slow its descent enough to safely touch down, and it exploded spectacularly near the landing pad.

Starship is huge – 15 stories from engine to nose cone - but it is only the upper stage of a still larger rocket called the Super Heavy.  This booster is a scaled-up version of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and will come equipped with three times as many engines.  When SpaceX mates a Falcon Super Heavy booster and Starship, the entire ensemble will stand nearly 400 feet tall, just a few feet taller than NASA's Saturn V rocket that carried humans to the moon.  The Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket that has ever flown to space.

The reason SpaceX is developing Starship and the whole reason Musk got into the space business to begin with is to get boot prints on the Red Planet.  If Musk wants to settle Mars in a reasonable amount of time, he's going to need a large interplanetary transport system that can carry hundreds of tons of cargo and dozens of passengers at a time.  Earlier this month, Musk predicted that Starship might carry the first astronauts to Mars as early as 2026.

20 Years of Science on the International Space Station

For the past two decades, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have conducted science in a way that cannot be done anywhere else.  Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth, the ISS is the only laboratory available for long-duration microgravity research.  During the past 20 years, the space station has supported numerous discoveries, scientific innovations, unique opportunities, and historic breakthroughs.  This research not only helps us explore farther into space but also benefits life on Earth.

Highlights:  Discovery of Steadily Burning Cool Flames; New Water Purification Systems; Drug Development; Combatting Muscle Atrophy and Bone Loss; Understanding How the Body Changes in Microgravity; Growing Food in Microgravity; 3D Printing in Microgravity; Responding to Natural Disasters

5 December 2020

Coronavirus breathalyzer test is a 'game changer' for economy

The newest COVID-19 test coming to market will only require a simple blow.  A coronavirus breathalyzer test, a noninvasive device that can instantly diagnose coronavirus, could make uncomfortable swab tests and long lines a thing of the past.

Another test includes a wearable armband device with embedded sensors that can detect abnormalities in a person's biometrics and other COVID-19 complications, in a process similar to facial pattern recognition that is used to unlock phones.

"We see this as a possible game changer for the economy.  Right now, the goal is to get everyone back to their daily routines. This means people back at work, students back in schools, and travelers back on planes.  We believe our device can play a major role in allowing this transition to happen quicker and, most importantly, safer."

The new technology will ultimately be able to also detect strep throat, the flu and other viruses in the future.

4 December 2020

Hubble Captures Unprecedented Fading of Stingray Nebula

Astronomers have caught a rare look at a rapidly fading shroud of gas around an aging star.  Hen 3-1357, nicknamed the Stingray nebula, has faded precipitously over just the past two decades.  Witnessing such a swift rate of change in a planetary nebula is exceeding rare.  Bright, blue, fluorescent tendrils and filaments of gas toward the center of the nebula have all but disappeared, and the wavy edges that earned this nebula its aquatic-themed name are virtually gone.

The fading light is emitted by glowing nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen being blasted off by the dying star at the center of the nebula.

These "are changes in the fundamental structure of the nebula."  Observations from 1971 to 2002 showed the temperature of the star skyrocketing from less than 40,000 to 108,000 degrees Fahrenheit, more than ten times hotter than the surface of our Sun.  Now, the research team has shown that SAO 245567 is cooling.

25 November 2020

Warning:   coronavirus vaccine likely to have side-effects; but must get second dose.

Those who eventually receive the long-awaited jab should be wary of the side effects – such as body aches and bad headaches – so they will return for the second dose.  The side effects won't be a walk in the park.  They are probably not going to feel wonderful.  But they've got to come back for that second dose.

"I had some side effects," said one volunteer.  "Basically, I had a headache and a lot of fatigue, injection site pain ... maybe three to four days.  The second one, it was similar but it was much more muted.  It wasn't as strong.  I think I took some Advil and they basically cleared up."

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require the second dose.

"Having a bit of immune reaction is a good signal that your immune system is working because the vaccine is being activated."

22 November 2020

Operation Warp Speed projects 70% herd immunity, potential return to normalcy May 2021

America might reach herd immunity from the coronavirus sometime around May.

An advisory panel is meeting Dec. 10 to determine whether or not to approve the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Should the panel grant approval, the government will move fast to deliver the vaccines across the country.  "Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval, maybe on the 11th or 12th of December."  If so, 20 million immunizations a month will be shipped starting in December.

"Most people need to be immunized before we can return to a normal life."

"Fossil galaxy" found deep in the Milky Way

At right:  An all-sky image of the stars in the Milky Way as seen from Earth.  The coloured rings show the approximate extent of the stars that came from the fossil galaxy known as Heracles.  Credit: Danny Horta-Darrington (LJMU), ESA/Gaia, SDSS

Astronomers say they have discovered a "fossil galaxy" they have named "Heracles", hidden in the depths of the Milky Way that may alter thinking on how our galaxy grew into what we see today.

It may have collided with the Milky Way 10 billion years ago, when our galaxy was still in its infancy.  The remnants of Heracles account for about one-third of the Milky Way's spherical halo, so this newly discovered ancient collision must have been a major event, according to the research paper.  Most similar massive spiral galaxies had much calmer early lives.

To differentiate Heracles from the original Milky Way, the team used chemical compositions and velocities of stars measured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE).  "Of the tens of thousands of stars we looked at, a few hundred had strikingly different chemical compositions and velocities.  These stars are so different that they could only have come from another galaxy.  By studying them in detail, we could trace out the precise location and history of this fossil galaxy."

The computer simulation below of a galaxy like the Milky Way moves from 13 billion years ago to today.  The main galaxy grows as many small galaxies merge with it.  Credit:  Video Ted Mackereth based on EAGLE simulations

20 November 2020

Spacewalking astronauts prep for 2021 arrival of Russian lab

The International Space Station's two Russian astronauts ventured out on a spacewalk Wednesday to prepare for next year's arrival of a long-delayed lab.  Russia's old spacewalking compartment will be removed and junked next year to make room for the research lab Nauka – Russian for "science."  Several Russian-directed spacewalks will be required.

The new 22-ton lab – stretching 43 feet (13 meters) long – is so big that it will be launched from Kazakhstan by a powerful Proton rocket.  Once at the orbiting outpost, it will double as an air lock and docking port.

18 November 2020

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine 95% effective in final results, company to seek approval within days

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE was 95% effective in final results from a pivotal study and is showing signs of being safe, key pieces of data as the companies prepare to ask health regulators to authorize use.

Pfizer plans to seek authorization for the vaccine within days, the companies said Wednesday, leaving the vaccine on track to go into distribution by the end of the year if approved by health regulators.

The resulting 95% effectiveness rate puts the shot's performance on par with shingles and measles vaccines.

Days earlier, Moderna Inc. reported similarly strong preliminary results for its shot, which the biotech said was 94.5% effective in an early look.  Moderna, which is using the same kind of gene-based technology as Pfizer and BioNTech in its shot, is expected to report its safety data later this month.

17 November 2020

NASA astronauts become latest space station residents in historic SpaceX Crew Dragon mission

Three NASA astronauts and their fellow crew member from the Japanese Space Agency boarded the International Space Station early Tuesday following a historic flight in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.  The crew lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on Sunday in the first operational SpaceX Crew Dragon launch, marking an important milestone for the space program.

After the end of the Space Shuttle program, the U.S. relied on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to get astronauts into space.  Russia charges the U.S. about $75 million to send an astronaut into space, and the Associated Press reports that the last Soyuz ticket cost America $90 million.

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi were welcomed aboard by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

See the launch of Spacex Crew-1:

14 November 2020

Launch Readiness Review Complete, NASA and SpaceX agree to target launch for 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 15

The delay is due to onshore winds and first stage booster recovery readiness.

12 November 2020

States ramp up for biggest vaccination effort in US history

It will be a monumental undertaking that must distribute hundreds of millions of doses, prioritize who is first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one.

For the vaccination effort to get off the ground, state officials have been readying systems to track supplies and who has been vaccinated.  That information will be fed into a national network and will be critical in giving federal health officials an up-to-date picture of vaccinations around the country.

World's Biggest Iceberg Is On A Collision Course With Important Wildlife Refuge

The massive tabular iceberg named A68a calved from Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017.  Pushed around by ocean currents, tides, and winds, the iceberg is now about 650 miles (1,050 km) north of its birthplace.  Initially measuring more than 2,300 square miles (6,000 sq km) in area and composed of an estimated 1,000 billion tons of ice, it lost 300 square miles of ice in the last two years.

The iceberg is still larger than the island of South Georgia, which is in its path.  The island hosts one of the largest colonies of penguins and seals in the southern ocean.

Pictures from the NASA-SpaceX May 30th launch and August 2nd return for first American manned flight to the ISS since 2011

10 November 2020

How adults learn a new language

Both sides of the brain help out, it seems.

While it's thought that language is specialised in the left side of the brain, researchers found that the right side also helps out when learning a new language as an adult.

NASA Research App Helps Fight Fatigue in Flight, Space and More

If you ever get drowsy at your school or office desk, that's probably not much of a problem.  But what if you're a pilot, a commercial driver or an astronaut? Then fatigue can lead to small mistakes with significant consequences.

Since it's hard to tell when "tired" means "too tired," NASA has released a research app to help scientists study what's going on in the body when fatigue prevents you from working safely – and which telltale signs could alert you in time.

The app features a reaction-time test to gauge alertness and a streamlined process for gathering information scientists need. This lets the app be used by people working in complex, real-world situations to collect valuable research data, which will help researchers come up with reliable tests and solutions in the long term.

The FAA, several commercial airlines and researchers in occupational health and safety have already requested the app to use in their own studies, so Flynn-Evans expects it to be adopted by many researchers studying different groups from NASA.

SpaceX rocket and crew capsule on launchpad ready for Saturday launch

9 November 2020

Two-million-year-old Paranthropus robustus skull provides insight into evolution of ancient cousins

South Africa's Drimolen caves have acted as a window into early hominin evolution.  In 2018 they revealed some of the world's oldest bone tools, and earlier in 2020, a research team uncovered the earliest-known skull of Homo erectus, a much closer relative of modern humans.  The species existed from around two million to 100,000 years ago, arising at around the same time as Paranthropus robustus.  The Drimolen caves also previously yielded several other P. robustus skulls, providing evidence for their co-existence with H. erectus.  The two species were vastly different.  While H. erectus had relatively large brains and small teeth, P. robustus were small-brained and large-toothed.  The two represent "divergent evolutionary experiments".

The new P. robustus cranium dates back further, to approximately 2.04-1.95 million years ago.

Evolutionary changes to P. robustus are believed to have taken place during a period of environmental change, when climate records indicate that the region was drying out.  The increasingly arid conditions led to the extinction of several mammal species and may have placed hominins under dietary stress.

3 November 2020

A step forward for molecular machines – Near-infrared light antenna powers nano-scale motor.

European chemists have achieved a long-standing goal in the field of molecular machines, developing a nano-scale motor that is efficiently powered by near-infrared light.

"Autonomous motion allows the design of smart materials and systems whose properties can respond, adapt, and be modified on command."

Research has fabricated a range of tiny mechanical devices – for example, a 4WD nanocar with molecule motors as "wheels", and a motor that can rotate an object 10,000 times its size.

How small can we make machines?  At least a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair.

31 October 2020

NASA, SpaceX Work Toward Crew-1 Mission Launch Targeted for Nov. 14

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting Saturday, Nov. 14, for the launch of the agency's Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station.  Managers of the Crew-1 mission held a media briefing on Oct. 28, to discuss the upcoming launch, including results from recent testing of the Falcon 9 Merlin engines following unexpected data SpaceX noted during a recent non-NASA launch.

The unexpected data resulted in an auto-abort during engine ignition caused by early start behavior on two engines.  The SpaceX team inspected the engines on the launch pad, but did not find any signs of misconfigurations, so the two engines were removed and sent to the company's facility in McGregor, Texas, for additional testing.

Once in Texas, the team replicated the same early start behavior on the test stand.  After additional inspections, the team found blockage in a passage leading to a relief valve on the gas generator caused by a masking lacquer residue that had hardened during the engine build process.  Once the blockage was removed, the gas generator performance was restored to normal behavior during subsequent testing.

The team then analyzed data signatures across the Merlin fleet and found similar early start data results on two engines for the Crew-1 booster, which are being replaced.  "It was a really great find; it allowed us to fix something that is very subtle but can have some negative impact on the engine operation.  We continue to make progress on the Dragon spacecraft.  The team is processing ahead of the Nov. 14 launch attempt and everything is going well there."

NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on the first crew rotation mission to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.  Liftoff is scheduled for 7:49 p.m. EST on Nov. 14 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Crew-1 astronauts will join the Expedition 64 crew of Commander Sergey Ryzhikov, and Flight Engineers Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins.  The arrival of Crew-1 will increase the regular crew size of the space station's expedition missions from six to seven astronauts, adding to the amount of crew time available for research.

The Crew-1 mission will launch a few days after the Nov. 10 scheduled launch of NASA's Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, following a thorough review of launch vehicle performance.

27 October 2020

Over 42k people enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine trial

American pharmaceutical giant 'Pfizer' has enrolled more than 42,000 people in its phase two trial of its potential COVID-19 vaccine.  The company has also said over 35,000 participants have received a second dose of the vaccination.

Researchers hope the trial results will be in by November, and if so, they'll be sent to the FDA for a review process which could take up to four weeks.

Hubble Examines Massive Metal Asteroid Called 'Psyche' That's Worth Way More Than Our Global Economy

A new study by the Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a clearer picture than ever before of one of the most intriguing and most valuable asteroids we know of.  It's also one that NASA is planning to visit in 2026.

About 230 million miles/370 million kilometers from Earth, Psyche – as it's commonly known – is one of the most massive objects in the Solar System's main asteroid belt orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.   It's about 140 miles/226 kilometers – wide and-unlike most asteroids, which are rocky or icy – Psyche appears to be metallic.  Psyche is truly a one-of-a-kind object in the Solar System.

The global economy was worth about $142 trillion in 2019.  The metals that comprise Psyche could be worth about $10,000 quadrillion.  That is more than 70,000 times as much.

Due to launch in August 2022 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, NASA's Psyche mission is part of its Discovery Program of low-cost robotic space missions.  The orbiter is due to arrive at Psyche in January 2026 to begin at least 21 months in orbit mapping and studying the asteroid's properties.

26 October 2020

Asteroid samples escaping from jammed NASA spacecraft

Three days after the spacecraft named Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu, the NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble from this week's grab that it's jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space

Tuesday's operation 200 million miles away collected far more material than expected for return to Earth – in the hundreds of grams.  The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.

Scientists estimate the sampler pressed as much as 19 inches (48 centimeters) into the rough, crumbly, black terrain.  "We're almost a victim of our own success here."

The requirement for the $800 million-plus mission was to bring back a minimum 2 ounces (60 grams).  There is nothing flight controllers can do to clear the obstructions and prevent more bits of Bennu from escaping, other than to get the samples into their return capsule as soon as possible.  So the flight team was scrambling to put the sample container into the capsule as early as Tuesday – much sooner than originally planned – for the long trip home.

This is NASA's first asteroid sample-return mission. Bennu was chosen because its carbon-rich material is believed to hold the preserved building blocks of our solar system. Getting pieces from this cosmic time capsule could help scientists better understand how the planets formed billions of years ago and how life originated on Earth.

Regardless of what's on board, Osiris-Rex will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March – that's the earliest possible departure given the relative locations of Earth and Bennu.  The samples won't make it back until 2023, seven years after the spacecraft rocketed away from Cape Canaveral.

NASA reaches key milestone with US companies competing to provide moon landers

NASA has reached a key milestone with the U.S. companies competing to provide landers for future crewed missions to the moon.  The space agency's Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the moon by 2024.  Working with commercial and international partners, it also plans to establish a sustainable human presence on Earth's natural satellite by 2028.  NASA's Human Landing System (HLS) program conducted Certification Baseline Reviews with a Blue Origin-led team, Dynetics, and SpaceX "to better understand their human landing system proposals and approach for the agency's Artemis program."

The primary purpose of the CBRs was to finalize the functional and performance requirements for the companies' landing system designs, confirm the standards to be applied to lander development, establish the baseline designs, schedules, and management plans for HLS contract execution and human spaceflight certification.

"We were able to select three very different design solutions to accomplish the bold and challenging objective of sending astronauts to the lunar South Pole."

NASA recently tested the booster rocket technology that will be used to power future Artemis missions to the moon.  The space agency conducted a full-scale booster test for its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in Promontory, Utah last month.

25 October 2020

History:  Georges Lemaitre comes in with a bang

In 1927, Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre published a paper in the Annales de la Societe scientifique de Bruxelles in which he reviewed the General Theory of Relativity, published by Albert Einstein in 1916, and found that not only was the Universe expanding, but that it had originated at a finite point in time.

Einstein told him:  "Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable."  By 1929, however, it was Einstein's calculations that had come under fire, stemming from "systematic observations of other galaxies" made by American astronomer Edwin Hubble, and Lemaitre's findings began to find supporters.

In 1929 Britain's Royal Astronomical Society"s Arthur Eddington "accepted that the universe was expanding" but resisted the implication that the universe had a beginning.  This clash between the two was perhaps surprising, given that years earlier Eddington the professor had said of Lemaitre the scholar, that he was "a very brilliant student, wonderfully quick and clear-sighted, and of great mathematical ability."

"Lemaitre was indeed the father of big-bang cosmology, his brilliant idea was only turned into a viable cosmological theory by later physicists."  Indeed, the term "big bang theory" was coined by British astronomer Fred Hoyle, who never accepted it was a theory on the origin of the Universe and used it derisively.

In 2018, half a century after Lemaitre's death, what was known as the Hubble Law – describing how galaxies move away from each other – was renamed the Hubble – Lemaitre Law.

21 October 2020

NASA spacecraft successfully grabs sample of rocks from Bennu asteroid

A NASA spacecraft touched down on the rugged surface of the Bennu asteroid on Tuesday, grabbing a sample of rocks dating back to the birth of our solar system to bring home.

"Sample collection is complete, and the back-away burn has executed," Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church added seconds later, confirming the spacecraft eased away from the space rock after making contact.  The probe will send back images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so scientists can examine how much material was retrieved and determine whether the probe will need to make another collection attempt.  If a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will journey back toward Earth, arriving in 2023.

Bennu, located over 100 million miles from Earth and whose acorn-shaped body formed in the early days of our solar system, could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

20 October 2020

Moderna CEO says coronavirus vaccine emergency approval could come in December

CEO Stephane Bancel of Moderna said Monday the company could see emergency approval for its coronavirus vaccine candidate in December.  In order to file an emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration, the company needs enough safety and efficacy data.  If all goes according to plan, that could happen in the later part of November.

The FDA has also said emergency approval for a COVID-19 vaccine will require two months of safety data on half of the study participants.  Moderna expects this data in late November.

The U.S. government has already struck a $1.5 billion deal with Moderna for 100 million doses, with the option to buy another 400 million doses.  Bancel said that if the government does decide to buy more, the supply chain should be able to handle the request with no problem.

Human coronaviruses 'inactivated' by mouthwash, oral rinses

A new study conducted by researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine has found that a common dental item can inactivate human coronaviruses:  mouthwash and oral rinses.

"Many inactivated greater than 99.9% of virus after only 30 seconds of contact time and some inactivated 99.99% of the virus after 30 seconds."

"While we wait for a vaccine to be developed, methods to reduce transmission are needed.  The products we tested are readily available and often already part of people's daily routines."

13 October 2020

Zooming In:  Visualizing the Relative Size of Particles

Lately, the world's biggest threats have been microscopic in size.  From the global COVID-19 pandemic to wildfires ripping through the U.S. West Coast, it seems as though our lungs can't catch a break, or more aptly, a breath.

While the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is relatively small in size, it isn't the smallest virus particle out there.  Both the Zika virus and the T4 Bacteriophage responsible for E. coli are just a fraction of the size, although they have not nearly claimed as many lives as COVID-19 to date.

A particle needs to be smaller than 10 microns before it can be inhaled into your respiratory tract.

Air quality in the U.S. August-September 2020

8 October 2020

Southeast Asia extinctions over last 100,000 years due to change from grasslands to rain forest

Deforestation is driving many of Southeast Asia's species towards extinction.  But the opposite once occurred as rainforests replaced grasslands thousands of years ago, megafauna and ancient humans (Home erectus) vanished.

For nearly a million years, the region stretching from modern-day southern China to Borneo was covered in grasslands.  Many species of megafauna thrived in this vastly different landscape, including giant hyenas, buffalo- and antelope-like bovines, and two species of ancient elephants.  But over the past 100,000 years, these savannahs began to retreat.  By the dawn of the Holocene 11,700 years ago, they had been replaced by the lush, dense rainforest we see today.  The significant environmental change was too much for many species to cope with: as the savannah environments disappeared, so too did the megafauna.

The changes in the length and duration of ice ages led to a resurgence of rainforest, to which the megafauna was poorly adapted, including species of ancient humans such as Homo erectus, which were also unable to adapt to the more dynamic forest environment and soon disappeared.  This contrasts with most megafauna extinction hypotheses, which suggest that modern humans are the primary cause of extinctions.

Only Homo sapiens appears to have had the required skills to successfully exploit and thrive in rainforest environments.

5 October 2020

A new way to accurately predict who might die from COVID-19

A research study found that patients who have elevated levels of two certain proteins are more likely to exhibit severe coronavirus symptoms.

Adults with existing comorbidities like chronic cardiac disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, kidney disease, and asthma are far more likely to incur severe coronavirus symptoms than others.

When two proteins – IL-6 and TNF-a – are found in a patient's bloodstream at elevated levels, they are more likely to die from the coronavirus than others.  Drugs designed to block the proteins are currently being tested for FDA approval.

What is both promising and interesting is that coronavirus drugs currently being tested for FDA approval are already designed to block the IL-6 and TNF-a proteins.

3 October 2020

NASA, SpaceX to Launch First Commercial Crew Rotation Mission to International Space Station

NASA and SpaceX are beginning a regular cadence of missions with astronauts launching on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 is the first crew rotation mission with four astronauts flying on a commercial spacecraft, and the first including an international partner.

NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are set to launch to the space station on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.  The crew is scheduled for a long duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, conducting science and maintenance.  The Crew Dragon being used for this flight will remain docked to the station for the full length of a long duration space station expedition, lasting approximately six months.  The four astronauts are set to return in spring 2021.

After successfully docking, the astronauts of Crew-1 will be welcomed aboard station by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.  For the first time, the space station's crew will expand to seven people with Expedition 64, increasing the amount of crew time available for research.

23 September 2020

President Trump, White House confident a vaccine could come as early as October

The Trump administration is touting the effectiveness of Operation Warp Speed. During an interview Monday, President Trump said a coronavirus vaccine could be ready by the end of October.  The President then highlighted candidates from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, while noting they are in the later stages of development.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Assistant Secretary Brett Giror praised the administration's coronavirus response.  They said COVID-19 numbers across the board are going down.

Three vaccines in phase three and a fourth one is starting imminently.  Two of those vaccines in the U.S. have their phase three trials almost fully recruited to the original plan.

18 September 2020

Extinction Event 233 million years ago ushered in the Age of the Dinosaurs

Huge volcanic eruptions 233 million years ago pumped carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour into the atmosphere. This series of violent explosions, on what we now know as the west coast of Canada, led to massive global warming.  New research has revealed that this was a planet-changing mass extinction event that killed off many of the dominant tetrapods and heralded the dawn of the dinosaurs.  But it was not only the dinosaurs that were given a foothold.  Many modern tetrapod groups, such as turtles, lizards, crocodiles and mammals date back to this newly discovered time of revolution.

Geologists and palaeontologists agree on a roster of five such events, of which the end-Cretaceous mass extinction was the last.  So our new discovery of a previously unknown mass extinction might seem unexpected.  And yet this event, termed the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), seems to have killed as many species as the giant asteroid did.  Ecosystems on land and sea were profoundly changed, as the planet got warmer and drier.

16 September 2020

Ancient DNA is revealing the genetic landscape of people who first settled East Asia

The very first human beings originally emerged in Africa before spreading across Eurasia about 60,000 years ago.

Eastern regions of Eurasia are home to approximately 2.3 billion people today-roughly 30% of the world's population.  Archeologists know from fossils and artifacts that modern humans have occupied Southeast Asia for 60,000 years and East Asia for 40,000 years.

One of the DNA sequences came from leg bones of the Tianyuan Man, a 40,000-year-old individual discovered in western Beijing.  One of the earliest modern humans found in East Asia, his genetic sequence marks him as an early ancestor of today's Asians and Native Americans.  His location indicates that the ancestors of today's Asians began placing roots in East Asia as early as 40,000 years ago.

Origin of the elements reviewed

Colliding neutron stars do not create as many of the chemical elements in the Universe as has been assumed, according to a trio of astronomers writes in a paper in The Astrophysical Journal.  Another stellar process is responsible for making most of the heavy ones.  "Neutron star mergers did not produce enough heavy elements in the early life of the Universe, and they still don't now, 14 billion years later.  The Universe didn't make them fast enough to account for their presence in very ancient stars, and, overall, there are simply not enough collisions going on to account for the abundance of these elements around today."

All hydrogen and a lot of helium and lithium were created by the Big Bang, but other naturally occurring elements are made by different nuclear processes inside stars.  Stars smaller than about eight times the mass of the Sun produce carbon, nitrogen and fluorine, as well as half of all the elements heavier than iron.  Half of those that are heavier than iron are thought to be made when neutron stars, the superdense remains of burnt-out suns, crash into one another.  However, the new study suggests that heavy elements are created by unusual supernovae that collapse while spinning very fast and generating strong magnetic fields.

The study is the first to attempt to calculate the stellar origins of all naturally occurring elements from first principles, and even produced a new-look Periodic Table, showing the origins of elements from carbon to uranium.

Soft, Conformable Hearing Implants

These electrode implants will allow people with a dysfunctional inner ear to hear again.

Cochlear implants and similar devices do not help people whose inner ear is damaged or whose auditory nerve does not function properly.  For these patients to recover their sense of hearing, electrical signals must be sent directly to the auditory brainstem.  Researchers have developed a soft electronic interface using a highly elastic implant that conforms neatly to the curved surface of the auditory brainstem and can send highly targeted electrical signals.

Wireless "Pacemaker" for the Brain

Could a Brain Pacemaker Help Patients With Alzheimer's Disease?

During a five-hour surgery last October at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Kathy Sanford became the first Alzheimer's patient in the United States to have a pacemaker implanted in her brain.  She is the first of up to ten patients who will be enrolled in an FDA-approved study at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center to determine if using a brain pacemaker can improve cognitive and behavioral functioning in patients with Alzheimer's disease.  The study employs the use of deep brain stimulation (DBS), the same technology used to successfully treat about 100,000 patients worldwide with movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease.  In the study, researchers hope to determine whether DBS surgery can improve function governed by the frontal lobe and neural networks involved in cognition and behavior by stimulating certain areas of the brain with a pacemaker.

15 September 2020

Venus keeps teasing us about life

Phosphine gas has been detected in its atmosphere, which on Earth can only be produced by life.  Phosphine (PH3) is a highly reactive gas that, on Earth, is only formed in significant quantities by certain types of anaerobic microorganisms.

The idea of life in the Venusian clouds isn't new.  These clouds lie in a "temperate zone" about 50-60 kilometres up, where the furnace-like heat and pressure of the lower atmosphere are sufficiently attenuated for liquid droplets to form.  Life might have gotten there long ago, wafted up from the surface at a time when Venus was cooler and wetter than today.  There is, however, one problem:  the droplets in these clouds contain a lot of sulfuric acid: enough that anything living there would have to be adapted to survive in battery acid – or worse.  "Sulfuric acid is terrible for all Earth life.  So it probably has to be completely different life.  Our proteins and DNA would completely dissolve in those droplets."

"We are not claiming we found life on Venus.  We are claiming there is something really unknown, and it might be life."

We have a growing number of Solar System bodies of astrobiological interest:  including Mars, Europa, Enceladus and Titan.  Now, we have raised Venus higher up on the ladder of interesting targets.

The research is published in a paper in the journal Nature Astronomy.

13 September 2020

Literacy may have been widespread in Judea

At right:  Hebrew ostraca from Tel Arad.  Credit: Michael Cordonsky, TAU and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Four years ago, a multi-disciplinary team from Tel Aviv University used state-of-the-art image processing and machine learning algorithms to analyse 18 ancient texts dating to around 600BCE uncovered at the Tel Arad military post in southern Israel in the 1960s.  They initially concluded that these were written by no fewer than four different authors, then upped that number to six.  When Yana Gerber examined the ostraca (fragments of pottery vessels containing ink inscriptions) she concluded that the texts were in fact written by no fewer than 12 authors.

That caused more than a little interest given that Tel Arad was a small post housing between 20 and 30 soldiers at a time when it was thought literacy was as an exclusive domain in the hands of a few royal scribes.

"I delved into the microscopic details of these inscriptions written by people from the First Temple period," she says, "from routine issues such as orders concerning the movement of soldiers and the supply of wine, oil, and flour, through correspondence with neighbouring fortresses, to orders that reached the Tel Arad fortress from the high ranks of the Judahite military system."

Whatever the age, handwriting is made up of unconscious habit patterns, Gerber says, and handwriting identification is based on the principle that these writing patterns are unique to each person and no two people write exactly alike.

Researchers believe the findings shed new light on Judahite society on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple in 587BCE.

"If in a remote place like Tel Arad there was, over a short period of time, a minimum of 12 authors of 18 inscriptions, out of the population of Judah which is estimated to have been no more than 120,000 people, it means that literacy was not the exclusive domain of a handful of royal scribes in Jerusalem."

12 September 2020

California's wildfire smoke plumes are unlike anything previously seen

More than 3.1 million acres have burned in California this year, part of a record fire season that still has four months to go.  A suffocating cloud of smoke has veiled the West Coast for days, extending more than a thousand miles above the Pacific.  And the extreme fire behavior that's been witnessed this year hasn't just been wild – it's virtually unprecedented in scope and scale.

Fire tornadoes have spun up by the handful in at least three big wildfires in the past three weeks, based on radar data. Giant clouds of ash and smoke have generated lightning.  Wildfire plumes have soared up to 10 miles high, above the cruising altitude of commercial jets.

Scientists have been scrambling to collect as much data on these wildfires as possible, hoping to unlock the secrets to their extreme behavior and fury.  Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric sciences in the department of physics at the University of Nevada at Reno closely studies pyrocumulus clouds, towering explosion-like plumes of heat that develop above intense blazes.  The smoke plume of the Creek Fire in the Sierra Nevadas soared to 55,000 feet.  That's taller than many of the tornadic thunderstorms that roll across Oklahoma and Kansas each spring.

Before 2020, only a few fires had ever produced documented fire tornadoes in the United States; now they are being seen every week or two.  The Creek Fire has produced a number of clockwise-spinning fire tornadoes.  That's opposite to how most tornadoes spin in the Northern Hemisphere.

10 September 2020

Chip Converts Wasted Heat to Usable Energy

Mechanical engineers have discovered a way to produce more electricity from heat than thought possible by creating a silicon chip, also known as a 'device,' that converts more thermal radiation into electricity.  This could lead to devices such as laptop computers and cellphones with much longer battery life and solar panels that are much more efficient at converting radiant heat to energy.

"You put the heat back into the system as electricity.  Right now, we're just dumping it into the atmosphere.  It's heating up your room, for example, and then you use your AC to cool your room, which wastes more energy."

The World's Population by Country Currently and in 2100

7 September 2020

Aviation A Smaller Contributor To Climate Change Than Previously Thought

Nitrogen oxides emitted in aircraft exhaust increase the production of ozone, a major greenhouse gas, but they also destroy methane, a big contributor to atmospheric warming.  Also contrails heat and cool the planet at the same time by trapping atmospheric heat while reflecting sunlight.  The net result is that contrails are only about half as bad as previously thought.

5 September 2020

NASA's Moon-Bound Orion Spacecraft is Officially Fit for Flight

NASA's Orion, the spacecraft designed to carry American astronauts to the Moon as part of the agency's Artemis program, just completed its System Acceptance Review and Design Certification Review.  In other words, Orion is officially fit to embark on its maiden voyage as soon as next year.  An uncrewed test flight is slated for November 2021.  The first crewed mission, Artemis II, is expected to launch in August 2023.

The thorough review included system tests, inspection reports, and detailed analyses of every part of the spacecraft.  It also signifies "the final formal milestone to pass before integration with the Space Launch System rocket," according to a NASA statement.

The news comes a day after Northrop Grumman successfully fired a massive 154-foot SLS booster during a test in the Utah desert.

3 September 2020

Coronavirus deaths significantly reduced by steroids

Doctors and scientists convened by the World Health Organization performed the analysis.

In multiple studies involving a total of 1,700 patients, a number of corticosteroids-anti-inflammatory drugs that can damp the effects of an overactive immune system-helped reduce deaths from COVID-19 by about a third, compared with patients who didn't receive steroids, according to the analysis published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found relatively consistent benefits for using the drugs in severely ill patients:  Of 678 severely ill patients who received steroids, 32.7% died, compared with 41.5% of patients receiving usual care or placebo.

Scientists and physicians involved in the meta-analysis said the results raise hope that cheap, widely available drugs may become standard treatments for severe cases of COVID-19.  The results are especially encouraging because of the consistency of the benefit to patients.

CDC tells states: Be ready to distribute coronavirus vaccines on Nov. 1

In a letter to governors dated Aug. 27, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said states "in the near future" will receive permit applications from McKesson Corporation, which has contracted with CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals.

Initially available vaccines will either be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or authorized by the agency under its emergency powers.  Redfield said that officials were preparing "for what I anticipate will be reality, is that there'll be one or more vaccines available for us in November, December."

CDC's Redfield laments polarization during coronavirus 'war', warns on Labor Day travel spreading

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield said he's had to spend time encouraging employees, and swatting away negative comments.  He also warned that the upcoming holiday could lead to a new surge in COVID-19 diagnoses.  Spikes in cases were seen both after Memorial Day and Independence Day, and Redfield is concerned about the same following Labor Day – which would reverse progress towards stability in case trends nationwide.

Mastodons moved as the climate changed;  roamed widely across North America

Mastodons migrated vast distances across North America in response to dramatic climate change during the ice ages of the Pleistocene.

American mastodons (Mammut americanum) went extinct about 11,000 years ago, along with the likes of mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and giant ground sloths.  Until then, the mastodon was among the largest living land animals, roaming widely from Beringia, which historically joined Russia and America, east to Nova Scotia and south to Central Mexico.  Mastodons were living in Alaska at a time when it was warm, as well as Mexico and parts of Central America.  There was constant movement back and forth, in response to warming climate conditions and melting ice sheets.

1 September 2020

The sun's long-lost twin could be in deep space, researchers suggest

The research suggests that traces of the sun's 'temporary binary companion' are seen in the Oort cloud.

The research, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggests that traces of the sun's "temporary binary companion" are seen in the Oort cloud, "the most distant region of our Solar System."

"Previous models have had difficulty producing the expected ratio between scattered disk objects and outer Oort cloud objects," study lead author Amir Siraj said in a statement.  "The binary capture model offers significant improvement and refinement, which is seemingly obvious in retrospect: most Sun-like stars are born with binary companions."

If the sun did have a partner that helped form the early solar system, we'll likely never find it, the researchers acknowledged.  Passing stars in the birth cluster would have removed the companion from the sun through their gravitational influence.  Before the loss of the binary, however, the solar system already would have captured its outer envelope of objects, namely the Oort cloud and the Planet Nine population.  The sun's long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way,

31 August 2020

94% of Americans who died from COVID-19 had contributing conditions: CDC

Ninety-four percent of Americans who died from COVID-19 had other "types of health conditions and contributing causes" in addition to the virus, according to a new CDC report.

Respiratory conditions such as influenza and pneumonia, respiratory failure and respiratory arrest, as well as circulatory conditions such as hypertensive diseases, cardiac arrest and heart failure are on the list.  Other conditions included sepsis, diabetes, renal failure and Alzheimer's disease.  As of Monday, the US has surpassed 6 million coronavirus cases and 183,000 deaths, Johns Hopkins University statistics show.

28 August 2020

Steps to ensure that a vaccine is safe

The worldwide race is on to find a COVID-19 vaccine.  According to the World Health Organisation there are currently 31 vaccine candidates undergoing various phases of clinical trials around the world, and another 142 in pre-clinical evaluation.

Clinical trials must be passed to prove efficacy and safety.  As COVID-19 vaccines enter clinical trials, they must pass escalating steps to prove their efficacy and safety.  Clinical trials are conducted in phases, each with slightly different objectives and increasing numbers of volunteers.  This is primarily to ensure subject safety but also to make sure the process is as cost-effective as possible.  The data from each phase is thoroughly reviewed and must show both safety as well as the desired effect before progressing from one phase to the next.

There is a Pre-clinical phase, plus four Phases of testing and distribution.

How Hot is that Pepper?  Check the Scoville Scale

The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spiciness or "heat") of chili peppers, as recorded in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), based on the concentration of capsaicinoids.

24 August 2020

Trump, FDA tout COVID-19 convalescent plasma treatment

The Food and Drug Administration announced Sunday it was issuing an emergency authorization for convalescent plasma treatment in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.  President Donald Trump touted the promise of plasma at Sunday evening's White House briefing.  "This is a powerful therapy that transfuses very, very strong antibodies from the blood of recovered patients to help treat patients battling a current infection," Trump said.  "It's had an incredible rate of success."  FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said that the expedited approval was the result of the administration's work to "cut back red tape."

The announcement comes amid the high-pressure push to pinpoint an effective treatment for COVID-19. Blood plasma treatment, which has some data to support it, has been eyed with high hopes, although officials say that clinical data from randomized controlled trials is still being collected.

23 August 2020

SCDNR officials warn about state's first sighting of big, egg-loving lizard in Lexington County

Officials ask public to be on alert, report sightings

It's an ominous first for South Carolina: a sighting of a foreign, egg-loving lizard that can grow several feet long and pose a threat to animals across the state, according to officials from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.  The tegu lizard is already established in both Georgia and Florida.

Black and white tegu lizards can reach up to 4 feet in length and weigh more than 10 pounds as adults.  Tegus are voracious omnivorous lizards that eat a variety of prey including birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, fruits, vegetables, insects and eggs.

As a non-native species, tegus in the wild in South Carolina are not protected by state wildlife laws or regulations.  For more information about black and white tegus, including natural history and identifying characteristics, see

20 August 2020

NASA targets October 23rd for next SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to the International Space Station

The "no-earlier-than" launch target assumes official NASA certification following a detailed review of data collected during a piloted Crew Dragon test flight earlier this summer.  So far, officials say, no major issues have come to light that would prevent clearance to proceed with operational space station crew rotation missions.  If that holds up, the Crew Dragon capsule, perched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, would blast off from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center around 5:47 a.m. EDT on October 23rd.

On board will be NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker, making their second space flight each, rookie astronaut Victor Glover, and veteran Japanese flier Soichi Noguchi, making his third flight to the space station.  If all goes well, they will dock at the station's forward port the day after launch.  Current plans call for Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi to spend six months aboard the station, returning to Earth at the end of April.

NASA managers initially targeted late September for the Crew 1 launch, but decided to move it after the Oct. 14 launch of two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut aboard the Soyuz MS-17/63S spacecraft.

18 August 2020

ASA passes 'big milestone' on way to Mars as Ingenuity helicopter powers up

The six lithium-ion batteries that power Ingenuity were powered up and charged August 7th.

The 'copter, which weighs 4 pounds, will let researchers understand the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.  Assuming Perseverance successfully touches down on the Martian surface, scheduled to take place on Feb. 18, 2021, Ingenuity will take a few test flights.  Following successful deployment, Ingenuity will be powered by its solar panel and not rely on the rover for power.

14 August 2020

Baby Boomers?  Generation X?  Millenials?  Who are they?

13 August 2020

New Trump medical adviser:  Risk of COVID-19 'extremely low' for kids, 'even less than seasonal flu'

The president's new medical adviser Dr. Scott Atlas weighed the risks of schoolchildren spreading the virus against those of keeping schools shut.

"The risk of the disease is extremely low for children, even less than that of seasonal flu," said Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the think tank's working group on health care policy.  "We know that the harms of locking out the children from school are enormous.  And we also know, as we all would agree, that educating America's children is right at the top of the list for our nation's priorities."

A Just the News poll with Scott Rasmussen found that by a margin of 45% to 29% registered voters think that in the event a school does not offer in-person education, parents should "be able to use public school funding to have their children attend a different school that offers in-person teaching."

9 August 2020

Moderate earthquake rattles homes in North and South Carolina

You may have felt (we did, here in Mauldin!) the ground shake a little after 8 a.m. Sunday.  The US Geological Survey (USGS) reports a moderate 5.1 magnitude earthquake occurred at 8:07 a.m. August 9, centered approximately 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) south southeast of Sparta, NC, near the North Carolina, Virginia border.

8 August 2020

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover celebrates 8 years on the Red Planet

The rover touched down on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012.  Since touchdown, the rover journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life.  Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.

3 August 2020

Doctor goes on offensive after coordinated attacks on hydroxychloroquine

Dr. James Todaro stood on the steps of the Supreme Court last week to join fellow doctors in touting hydroxychloroquine as a viable early-stage treatment for those who contract the coronavirus – and says he was stunned by the backlash.

"It seems like a coordinated effort to discredit hydroxychloroquine."

The Food and Drug Administration has issued strict cautions about its use – though the agency says decisions about it should be left to doctors and patients.

Dr. Todaro is not the most famous member of the hydroxychloroquine club. Dr. Vladimir "Zev? Zelenko in New York did the "clinical legwork? in support of the Zelenko protocol, the controversial early treatment regimen that uses a three-drug cocktail of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc.

But Dr. Todaro has been one of the most effective combatants in the public debate, instrumental in getting retractions from the world's most prestigious medical journals and a growing social media audience.

2 August 2020

See screen-shots of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket lift off, head for the International Space Station, and Return

Liftoff for the two astronauts on board the Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket was on 30 May 2020.  The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule returned on 2 August 2020.

Texas cave sediment upends meteorite explanation for global cooling

Texas researchers from the University of Houston, Baylor University and Texas A&M University have discovered evidence for why the earth cooled dramatically 13,000 years ago, dropping temperatures by about 3 degrees Centigrade.  The resolution to this case of mistaken identity recently was reported this article in the journal Science Advances.

"This work shows that the geochemical signature associated with the cooling event is not unique but occurred four times between 9,000 and 15,000 years ago.  Thus, the trigger for this cooling event didn't come from space.  Prior geochemical evidence for a large meteor exploding in the atmosphere instead reflects a period of major volcanic eruptions."

After a volcano erupts, the global spread of aerosols reflects incoming solar radiation away from Earth and may lead to global cooling post eruption for one to five years, depending on the size and timescales of the eruption.

"This period of rapid cooling is associated with the extinction of a number of species, including mammoths and mastodons, and coincides with the appearance of early human occupants of the Clovis tradition."

"These signatures were likely the result of major eruptions across the Northern Hemisphere, including volcanoes in the Aleutians, Cascades and even Europe."  The Younger Dryas cooling lasted about 1,200 years, so a sole volcanic eruptive cause is an important initiating factor, but other Earth system changes, such as cooling of the oceans and more snow cover were needed to sustain this colder period.  This research underscores that extreme climate variability since the last ice age is attributed to unique Earth-bound drivers rather than extraterrestrial mechanisms.

1 August 2020

Astronauts Bob and Doug return from ISS on SpaceX's Crew Dragon

NASA is targeting 2 August 2020 for splashdown of the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico at 14:41 Eastern Time

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken blasted off from Cape Canaveral on 30 May 2020 onboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule as part of the historic Launch America mission.

30 July 2020

The Key to Defeating COVID-19 Already Exists.  We Need to Start Using It

Harvey A. Risch, MD, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health

In the midst of a crisis, I am fighting for a treatment that the data fully support but which, for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of the science, has been pushed to the sidelines.  As a result, tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily.

I am referring, of course, to the medication hydroxychloroquine.  The combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin or doxycycline, and zinc are well-suited for early treatment.

Two doctors have saved the lives of hundreds of patients with these medications, but are now fighting state medical boards to save their licenses and reputations.  The cases against them are completely without scientific merit.  Since May 27th, seven more studies have demonstrated similar benefit.

A reverse natural experiment happened in Switzerland. On May 27, the Swiss national government banned outpatient use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.  Around June 10, COVID-19 deaths increased four-fold and remained elevated.  On June 11, the Swiss government revoked the ban, and on June 23 the death rate reverted to what it had been beforehand.

On May 27, I published an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology (AJE) entitled, "Early Outpatient Treatment of Symptomatic, High-Risk COVID-19 Patients that Should be Ramped-Up Immediately as Key to the Pandemic Crisis."  That article, published in the world's leading epidemiology journal, analyzed five studies, demonstrating clear-cut and significant benefits to treated patients, plus other very large studies that showed the medication safety.

NASA's Aeronautics Experts Help Prepare Ingenuity to Fly on Mars

If all does go according to plan, after being gently deployed from Perseverance, Ingenuity will make at least five short hops over the Martian surface, flying as high as about 15 feet.

Weighing less than four pounds with a main body the size of a softball, there's no room for any science experiments on Ingenuity.  Martian science was never the goal of the helicopter in the first place.  "This is just a demonstration of technology to show that flying on Mars is possible, but eventually we'd like to design and fly a helicopter on Mars that actually has a science mission."

28 July 2020

Virgin Galactic set for last key rocket test flights

The company's Unity vehicle has so far conducted only glide flights after moving into its operational base in New Mexico earlier this year.  The powered ascents will see Unity ignite its hybrid rocket motor to climb to the edge of space.  These tests will set the stage for Virgin Galactic to introduce its commercial service.

Six hundred individuals have so far paid deposits to take a ride on Unity, with many of these individuals having put down their money a good number of years ago.  But the company's chief space officer said their wait would soon be over.

27 July 2020

Moderna launches coronavirus vaccine Phase 3 trial

Moderna anticipates enrolling 30,000 US participants

The needed proof:  Volunteers won't know if they're getting the real shot or a dummy version.  After two doses, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.

25 July 2020

Humans may have reached the Americas 30,000 years ago – some 15,000 years earlier than previously thought

An archaeological team excavated nearly 2000 stone tools from a cave in Mexico, along with plant remains and environmental DNA.  The artefacts belong to a type of material culture never seen in the Americas, suggesting a previously unknown stone industry.  "We can estimate humans arrived at Chiquihuite Cave as early as 33 to 31,000 years ago."

The findings do not neatly fit with a scenario in which humans first entered North America from Asia via Beringia, before heading south and developing the Clovis (stone tool) culture.  "The archaeology is older than anything we have seen before and the stone tools are of a type that is unique in the Americas.  Human-made flaked stone artefacts are there by the thousands, embedded in layered sedimentary deposits that are now well-dated."

"It seems likely to us that the people of Chiquihuite represent a 'failed colonisation', one which may well have left no genetically detectable heritage in today's First Americans populations."

20 July 2020

UK coronavirus vaccine prompts immune response in early test

Scientists at Oxford University say their experimental coronavirus vaccine has been shown in an early trial to prompt a protective immune response in hundreds of people who got the shot.  British researchers first began testing the vaccine in April in about 1,000 people, half of whom got the experimental vaccine. Such early trials are designed to evaluate safety and see what kind of immune response was provoked, but can't tell if the vaccine truly protects.

The experimental COVID-19 vaccine produced a dual immune response in people aged 18 to 55 that lasted at least two months after they were immunized.

"We are seeing good immune response in almost everybody.  What this vaccine does particularly well is trigger both arms of the immune system."  Neutralizing antibodies are produced – molecules which are key to blocking infection.  In addition, the vaccine also causes a reaction in the body's T-cells, which help by destroying cells that have been taken over by the virus.

Larger trials evaluating the vaccine's effectiveness, involving about 10,000 people in the U.K. as well as participants in South Africa and Brazil are still underway.  Another big trial is slated to start in the U.S. soon, aiming to enroll about 30,000 people.

Last week, American researchers announced that the first COVID-19 vaccine tested there boosted people's immune systems just as scientists had hoped and the shots will now enter the final phase of testing.

Nearly two dozen potential vaccines are in various stages of human testing worldwide, with a handful entering necessary late-stage testing to prove effectiveness.

19 July 2020

Florida Hospitals:  COVID Positivity is 10x Lower Than Reported

Florida COVID-19 numbers have been making waves in the news as of late but they may not be telling the real story, according to one hospital and a report of multiple testing laboratories.

Some hospitals and labs in Florida have been reporting up to 100% positivity rates, meaning that 100% of people who come in and get tested end up testing positive for COVID-19.

A report showed that Orlando Health had a 98 percent positivity rate.  However, when contacted, the hospital confirmed errors in the report.  Orlando Health's positivity rate is only 9.4 percent, not 98 percent as in the report.

Florida's record count of infections may be overestimated by 30%.

15 July 2020

Moderna says COVID-19 candidate vaccine induces strong response

The vaccine it is developing has shown to induce a "rapid and strong" immune response against COVID-19, stating it will begin late-stage testing in less than two weeks.

The company said it will start the third study phase of the vaccine candidate on July 23 with 30,000 participants, stating its study protocol has been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is aligned with its guidance on clinical trial design.

13 July 2020

Covid-19 globally and by country – Current, up-to-date totals, recovered cases, fatalities, and more.

8 July 2020

Covid-19 vs. US Daily Average Cause of Death

7 July 2020

COVID Deaths

Fewer deaths on the weekends?

4 July 2020

The Australian story, told beneath the sea

Archaeological sites could fill vast historical gaps.

One site, at Flying Foam Passage, was estimated to be at least 8500 years old and bore evidence of human activity associated with a freshwater spring 14 metres deep.  The other was at Cape Bruguieres, with more than 260 lithic artefacts discovered up to 2.4 metres below sea level, dated to at least 7000 years old using radiocarbon and sea-level change analysis along with predictive modelling.  The artefacts included various food processing, cutting, grinding and muller tools, such as a combined hammer stone and grindstone, which would have been used to grind seeds.

Science Tech Medical News Archive – from 2020 January through June

Science Tech Medical News Archive – from 2019 and earlier

Science Tech Medical News Archive - from 2019 and earlier

29 June 2020

Developments in a vaccine for coronavirus

First reduce the amount of virus during typical infection.

It will be nearly impossible to eradicate the virus simultaneously all around the world. And when we do emerge from isolation, the virus could potentially re-establish itself.  Our best chance to keep it in check in the future will be to develop a vaccine.

A vaccine must contain two components:  the adjuvant, a molecule that acts as a "danger signal" to activate your immune system; the antigen, a unique molecule that acts as a "target" for the immune response to the virus.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses ribonucleic acid (RNA) as its genetic material.  This is usually associated with high mutation rates, which can be a problem for vaccines, as viruses can mutate their antigens to evade the immune response.  Fortunately, SARS-CoV-2 seems to have a moderate rate of mutation to date, meaning it should be susceptible to a vaccine.

There's a lot we still don't know.  Importantly, for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, we don't yet know what type of immune response is needed.  We know patients who recover from COVID-19 can produce antibodies, but we don't know what kind of antibodies.  We know COVID-19 patients who develop severe disease have low numbers of T cells, but we don't have clear evidence of whether T cells can protect against COVID-19.  We know some experimental vaccine designs for MERS and SARS can make disease symptoms worse in animals, but we don't know whether this would happen with SARS-CoV-2.

The first vaccine to make it into clinical trials in mid-March is a lipid-encapsulated mRNA vaccine. For this vaccine, a short piece of the genetic material from the virus (mRNA) is coated with an oily layer (lipid).  This vaccine is now being given to volunteers in a phase I clinical trial in Seattle.

Cancer acts like bacteria to resist drugs

Study shows cells accumulate genetic variations.  Cancer cells can turn on error-prone DNA copy pathways to adapt to cancer treatment in much the same way as bacteria develop antibiotic resistance.

A range of cancers, including melanoma, pancreatic cancer, sarcomas and breast cancer, have the ability to generate a high number of errors when they copy their DNA when exposed to cancer treatments.

This resulted in more genetic variation, ultimately fuelling resistance to treatment.

How quickly is the Universe expanding?

It's a question that's causing a crisis in astrophysics.

In the last few years, it's become clear that two of the methods previously considered to be the most precise and reliable ways to measure this have been pointing us toward different answers.  In one method, we observe a large number of galaxies around us and measure how quickly they seem to be receding.  The other is based on looking at the most distant light in the Universe - the cosmic microwave background - and carefully measuring the sizes of hotter and colder spots in that light to conclude something about the shape of space and the whole history of cosmic expansion.

Astronomers have always expected both methods to give us the same answer:  a number called the Hubble Constant, named after the first astronomer to measure it.  But as both sides get more precise data, it's becoming clear that the answers disagree.  This is sometimes called the "Hubble tension"; other times it's called a "crisis in the cosmos".

One possibility is that both measurements are essentially correct, but they're not actually measuring the same thing, which would mean our big picture is incomplete, and the evolution of the cosmos is more complicated than we thought.

Explaining an uncertain law of physics

Batchelor's law, which helps explain how chemical concentrations and temperature variations distribute themselves in a fluid, can be seen at work in the variously sized swirls of mixing warm and cold ocean water.

Turbulence is seen as the ultimate example of chaos theory: the way a butterfly flaps its wings in Australia could be linked to whether a hurricane forms over the Caribbean Sea or not.

This would be a perpetual motion machine, if it was possible.

The very notion disregards all the energy sources and impacts between the butterfly's location and the hurricane's location, each of which is orders of magnitude greater.

Like the bow wave of a rowboat on the ocean, the energy is quickly diluted and dissipated.  If it would be possible for a butterfly, it would be possible for an ocean-going rowboat; yet clearly it is not.  QED

Early fossil evidence of humans in Europe

Artefacts suggest cultural interaction with Neanderthals.

Newly unearthed fossil remains offer the earliest clear evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe and suggest they had greater influence on Neanderthals than previously thought.  They place humans in the mid-latitudes of Eurasia at least 45,000 years ago, three millennia before previous estimates and 8000 years before the dwindling Neanderthal populations disappeared into extinction.

More research is needed to understand human filtration of Europe and cultural impact on Neanderthals and how this may have impacted that species' disappearance.

A simple song but listening to it is complex

Appreciating a good song, it turns out, is very much a whole-brain business, with research revealing specific regions in the left and right hemispheres decode words and music separately.

Processing words relies on temporal - time-based - stimuli.

Music is processed in relation to its "spectral" components - the range of fluctuating signals involved.

Words and music are processed in a region next to the left and right auditory cortices of the brain, specifically an area known as the lateral anterior superior temporal gyrus.

"Humans have developed two means of auditory communication: speech and music, [...] with a complementary specialization of two parallel neural systems."

26 June 2020

Boeing 737 MAX certification flight test expected soon

A key step in the return to service of the grounded Boeing 737 MAX could take place as soon as early next week.

24 June 2020

Too big to be a neutron star, too small to be a black hole; which is it?

19 June 2020

Perseverance is just about ready to launch

If all goes well, the 1043-kilogram rover will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 20 July, arriving on Mars in February 2021.

17 June 2020

A Breathtaking 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Will Adorn Our Skies This Weekend

Traversing east Africa, southern Asia

Astronauts: Falcon 9 rocket was 'totally different' ride than the space shuttle

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken piloted the first manned flight of the Falcon 9 on May 30.  Each astronaut had previously been on on two space shuttle missions, and they spoke of their surprise at how comparatively smooth the SpaceX launch was.

"What I thought was really neat was how sensitive we were to the throttling of the Merlin engines."

16 June 2020

Coronavirus: Dexamethasone proves first life-saving drug

A cheap and widely available drug can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without being admitted to hospital.

7 June 2020

SpaceX Mars city:  Elon Musk confirms he's sticking to ambitious launch date

Musk is still aiming to launch the first ships to Mars by 2022.  These ships will hold cargo designed to support a future manned mission.  That mission will come in 2024, the next time when the Earth and Mars are close again.

From these two initial missions, the plan would be to continue sending rockets to the red planet until there were enough resources to become a self-sustaining civilization.  This, he suggested Thursday, would take "about a dozen transfer windows."  Earth and Mars align approximately every 26 months, meaning this process could take around 25 years.  That would mean that a self-sustaining Mars city could emerge before 2050.

4 June 2020

Transit of the ISS with the Moon as backdrop

2 June 2020

NASA astronauts describe their historic SpaceX ride to International Space Station

Dinosaur-killing asteroid created massive magma chamber that lasted millions of years

The blast was enough to melt part of Earth's crust.

31 May 2020

Astronauts enter space station on historic SpaceX missionat 1:22 p.m.

30 May 2020

SpaceX, NASA to try again for landmark launch of two astronauts from Florida

Barring weather or other unforeseen problems, the 24-story-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 3:22 p.m. EDT today, propelling astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aloft on a 19-hour ride to the International Space Station.

See the launch schedule and link to watch the launch.

Check the Kennedy Space Center weather forecast.

27 May 2020

Meet NASA SpaceX astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

They will head to the International Space Station to join the Expedition 63 crew today.

SpaceX, NASA, astronauts making final preparations:  'We're go for launch'

Hurley and Behnken are scheduled to launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT from launch pad 39A of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which was also used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs.  The launch will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

The Mysterious Anomaly Weakening Earth's Magnetic Field Seems to Be Splitting

ESA:  In an area stretching from Africa to South America, Earth's magnetic field is gradually weakening. Scientists are using data from @esa_swarm to improve our understanding of this area known as the 'South Atlantic Anomaly'.  Since 1970, the anomaly has been growing in size, as well as moving westward at a pace of approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles) per year.

In the last two centuries, Earth's magnetic field has lost about 9 percent of its strength on average.

25 May 2020

NASA Invites Public to Be Its Guests to Celebrate Historic 'Launch America'

NASA is inviting the public to help celebrate a historic milestone in human spaceflight as it prepares for #LaunchAmerica - the first flight into orbit of American astronauts on American rockets from American soil since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011.

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, which is targeted for lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 27, this mission will send NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program. Members of the public can attend the launch virtually, receiving mission updates and opportunities normally received by on-site guests.

22 May 2020

SpaceX will use this rocket for its first manned space launch on May 27th

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will be first private spacecraft to carry astronauts into orbit.

The launch is the first time astronauts will launch into orbit aboard a spacecraft built by a private company.

This will be the first time American astronauts pilot an American-made spacecraft launched from U.S. soil since NASA's Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Two astronauts will travel to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon, although the spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule cargo version first flew to the ISS in 2012.  The photo below was taken of its arrival on Dec. 8, 2019.  (NASA via AP)

19 May 2020

Army researchers may have discovered new coronavirus-killing antibodies

Dead Sea Scrolls discovery: Fragments thought to be blank reveal text

18 May 2020

Moderna stock jumps after a positive vaccine trial

An early trial of its coronavirus vaccine candidate produced positive results.  All 45 volunteers in the trial produced antibodies that may help protect them against COVID-19.  The company hopes to soon start a mid-stage study of the vaccine candidate after the phase-one trial and move to a late-stage trial in July.

Moderna is aiming to have a vaccine ready for emergency use in the fall - a timeline that has never been seen for vaccine development.

Evidence suggests sun entering 'solar minimum' stage

100 days since there were any recorded sunspots.  So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76 percent of the time.  Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77 percent of the time.  Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum.  This is called a solar minimum, and it is a regular part of the sunspot cycle.

The sun's magnetic field has become weak, allowing extra cosmic rays into the solar system.  Excess cosmic rays pose a health hazard to astronauts and polar air travelers, affect the electro-chemistry of Earth's upper atmosphere and may help trigger lightning.

15 May 2020

Ozone's Effectiveness in Killing SARS Coronavirus Leads to Theory on COVID-19

Ozone has been proven to kill 99.999 percent of pathogens in the air, including SARS Coronavirus and influenzas such as H5N1.  In past studies, 99 percent of viruses have been destroyed and showed damage to their envelope proteins after 30 seconds of exposure to ozone.  This can result in the virus's failure to attach to normal, healthy cells, and the breakdown of the single-stranded RNA can lead to the destruction of the virus.

Viruses are small particles made up of crystals.  Ozone destroys viruses by attacking the nucleic acid core, thus damaging the viral RNA.  After destroying these particles, ozone dissipates and leaves breathable oxygen as its only byproduct.  COVID-19 is an enveloped virus.

Using ozonated water for handwashing kills bacteria and viruses on impact.  Ozone is created by special generators that release it in the air for purification or infuse it into water for disinfecting surfaces.  More information about ozone generators and how they work can be found here.

See this build-it-yourself virus-killing ozone generator.

Latest news:

See this virus-killing ozone generator being developed for use in shared vehicles, from Autonomous Vehicle Engineering magazine, by the Tech Briefs Media Group.

How toxic is ozone to humans?

EPA recommendations on ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners

Ozone breaks down into Oxygen fairly quickly

14 May 2020

12 May 2020

Why are there so few antivirals?

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.  Bacteria are cellular.

Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot replicate independently outside a host cell.  There is a debate over whether they are really living organisms at all.

To replicate, viruses enter a host cell and hijack its machinery.  Once inside, some viruses lie dormant, some replicate slowly and leak from cells over a prolonged period, and others make so many copies that the host cell bursts and dies.  The newly replicated virus particles then disperse and infect new host cells.

Different viruses vary from each other much more than different bacteria do.  There is extreme diversity between different viruses. Some have DNA genomes while others have RNA genomes, and some are single-stranded while others are double-stranded.  This makes it practically impossible to create a broad spectrum antiviral drug that will work across different virus types...

After recovering from coronavirus, are you immune?

8 May 2020

Black hole only 1,000 light-years from Earth discovered

The newly discovered black hole is dubbed HR 6819.  The star system was only spotted after two companion stars provided researchers with information on its whereabouts.  It can be seen on a clear night in the Southern Hemisphere without the use of a binocular or telescope, making it the first black hole to be seen without tools.

Though the black hole itself is invisible (as all black holes are) and does not have violent interactions with objects around it, the researchers are nonetheless certain it's there.  "An invisible object with a mass at least 4 times that of the Sun can only be a black hole."

The discovery was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics

The artist's impression below shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system.  This system is made up of an inner binary with one star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third object, another star, in a wider orbit (also in blue).  (Credit: ESO)

8 May 2020

Vitamin D levels may impact COVID-19 mortality rates

Researchers have discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality rates from the novel coronavirus

Patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates, such as Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, had lower levels of vitamin D compared to patients in countries that were not as severely affected.

5 May 2020

Pancreatic cancer hidden in plain sight

Pancreatic cancer does not respond to certain anticancer treatments that boost immune responses.  A mechanism active in tumour cells that contributes to this evasion of immune targeting has been uncovered.

4 May 2020

Mars helicopter to fly on NASA's next rover mission to the Red Planet

The aircraft will travel to Mars with NASA's Perseverance rover, scheduled to launch in July 2020.  The aircraft will demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on Mars.

1 May 2020

FDA allows emergency use of remdesivir to treat coronavirus patients after promising study

President Trump announced Friday that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of Gilead Science's experimental antiviral drug remdesivir to treat coronavirus patients after early results of a clinical study indicated the drug helps speed recovery.  Trump announced the news at the White House alongside Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, praised the drug Wednesday.

Comet disintegrates in remarkable pictures captured by Hubble space telescope

30 April 2020

WHO: 102 potential coronavirus vaccines in the works

Seven possible vaccines had been given the green light for testing.  One of the groups approved for clinical trials on humans is from the United States.  Four are from China, one is from England and the last is made up of both Americans and Europeans.

29 April 2020

Gilead touts 'positive data' on drug as coronavirus treatment

Gilead Sciences said "positive data" emerging from a clinical trial studying one of its drugs as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' study of remdesivir, an experimental antiviral, has reached its primary endpoint, meaning the drug was found to be effective in the trial.

There is no proven COVID-19 treatment yet, though hundreds of clinical trials are ongoing all around the world to find one.  Scientists have high hopes for remdesivir, which was originally developed as a potential treatment for Ebola.

28 April 2020

The Hubble Space Telescope turns 30 years old

Thirty years of remarkable achievements

27 April 2020

Heartburn meds tapped in coronavirus treatment

Trial started in mid-March and includes 150 people

Pepcid heartburn drug as a possible coronavirus treatment in combination with hydroxychloroquine.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard

24 April 2020

Gilead disputes report that its coronavirus drug failed in China trial

Gilead said the findings were inconclusive because the study was terminated early

Gilead Sciences is responding to a World Health Organization report that its experimental antiviral drug failed to help patients with severe COVID-19 in a clinical trial conducted in China.  Gilead coronavirus drug could still be promising despite leaked negative results.

"We believe the post included inappropriate characterizations of the study. The study was terminated early due to low enrollment and, as a result, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions," according to a Gilead statement.  "As such, the study results are inconclusive, though trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, particularly among patients treated early in disease."

23 April 2020

Study finds most New York's hospitalized COVID-19 patients had one or more underlying health issues

People with a serious chronic disease should take special precaution and seek medical attention early, should they start showing signs and symptoms of being infected, or know that they've been exposed to someone who has this virus.

22 April 2020

See the Emory University COVID-19 self-triage tool

The tool is basically for anyone who believes that they may have COVID-19 based on their symptoms (e.g., loss of smell, shortness of breath, fever).

It is designed, in part, to prevent a surge of patients at hospitals and healthcare facilities.

If you think you may have COVID-19, the website can answer questions to help you determine the best course of action (anything from stay at home and rest to get immediate medical attention).

For more information, see this news release, Emory helps build free online tool to assess COVID-19 risk.

21 April 2020

Coronavirus has mutated into at least 30 different strains

Medical officials have vastly underestimated the overall ability of the virus to mutate, in finding that different strains have affected different parts of the world, leading to potential difficulties in finding an overall cure.

18 April 2020

What is remdesivir, Gilead's possible coronavirus drug that's in trials?

Thus far, no drugs have been approved for treating the virus.

17 April 2020

NASA, SpaceX to Launch First Astronauts to Space Station from U.S. Since 2011

NASA and the exciting history of Spaceflight

Image of Mars

16 April 2020

Visualizing what COVID-19 does to your body

14 April 2020

Antibody points to potential weak spot on novel coronavirus

"The antibody binds to a spot on the novel coronavirus that is usually hidden, except for when [the] virus shapeshifts its structure in order to infect a cell."

13 April 2020

Two-thirds of patients showing improvement after treatment with Remdesivir

Coronavirus has 'reactivated' in more than 100 South Koreans who recovered

More than 100 South Koreans who fully recovered from coronavirus have tested positive for a second time. Last week there were 51 cases of patients testing positive after being cleared of the virus. There have been no cases of the relapsed patients spreading the virus to anyone else.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Q: Is it useful to take common-cold remedies to help fight the virus?

A: Experts say remedies such as DayQuil are helpful for controlling the virus's symptoms. But they aren't a cure and won't prevent you from infecting others.

12 April 2020

  ISS crew blast off after long quarantine

11 April 2020

Can UV from the Sun kill the coronavirus? Better read this.

10 April 2020

Europe could be close to herd immunity from coronavirus ALREADY with 15% of people carrying antibodies say researchers studying city dubbed 'German Wuhan'

Two researchers from G?ttingen University claimed countries have only spotted six per cent of all COVID-19 cases, on average. Rates - which the researchers said were true up to March 31 - were staggeringly low in Britain (1.2 per cent), Italy (3.5 per cent), Spain (1.7 per cent) and the US (1.6 per cent). Because of the huge disparity, they described the official tallies trotted out by health ministers across the world each day as 'rather meaningless'.

Up to 15 per cent of people in hard-hit German town may already have immunity. If 15 per cent of people do have antibodies, then Germany's actual death rate could be as low as 0.37 per cent. This is five times lower than the current calculated level.

"This means a gradual relaxation of the lockdown is now possible."

With far more people infected than previously thought, Europe as a whole could be closer to herd immunity than expected.

4 April 2020

Immunologist says he has a possible cure for the coronavirus

"We've engineered neutralizing antibodies that go and block the virus. The coronavirus, if you were to zoom in on it, you would see a series, a ring of spikes, and it uses those spikes to invade human cells. We've identified a series of super potent antibodies that block those spikes and therefore make the virus no longer infectious."

3 April 2020

New Coronavirus Test Provides Results in as Few as Five Minutes

Actual tracing and virtual dating of COV-19

A digest of COVID-19 science, data, reporting and optimism as of 3 April.

2 April 2020

Australia begins testing 2 potential coronavirus vaccines, including one from US

Top NY Blood Center doctor says plasma coronavirus treatment looking 'promising'

30 March 2020

Army researchers at Fort Detrick who helped discover Ebola treatment seek coronavirus vaccine

These are the same army scientists who helped develop vaccines for anthrax, the plague and Ebola. Now, they have been working double shifts growing large amounts of the COVID-19 virus at this sprawling lab complex.

"We can test about 300 drugs or compounds in each plate."

They have used sneeze labs -- a technology the U.S. Army invented -- to test how the virus has spread through the air. "It would mimic you and I walking through someone's sneeze. There's a swirl of virus within droplets, so it doesn't exist just in air, but it's in fine droplets of many different sizes. Large droplets would land on your mouth and eyes, maybe on your hands, on surfaces, small droplets. You breathe them into your nostrils. Some of them make it past your projections, get deep into the lungs."

"We're going to find this vaccine and we're gonna win in the end."

FDA Authorizes Use of Malaria Drugs for Coronavirus

The emergency-use authorization is for two oral prescription drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which are used primarily to treat malaria, but are now being investigated by federal agencies. 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate and one million doses of chloroquine phosphate have been donated. The FDA will allow the drugs to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate.

As of early Monday morning, the coronavirus has infected more than 143,000 people in the U.S. and at least 2,513 people have died from the respiratory illness.

Up to 10 percent of recovered coronavirus patients test positive again, China reports

As many as 10% of recovered coronavirus patients in China tested positive again after being discharged from the hospital, according to a report. So far there is no evidence to suggest that they are infectious. The five patients who tested positive again did not have any symptoms and none of their close contacts had been infected.

Surveillance of similar patients showed that 80 to 90% had no trace of the virus in their system one month after being discharged from the hospital.

Additionally, health officials around the world are testing the concept of taking plasma from someone who has been infected, processing it, and injecting the antibodies into a sick person to stimulate their immune system.

Like a key to a lock

How seeing the molecular machinery of the coronavirus will help scientists design a treatment.

Another twist in the dark matter story

Electromagnetic signals don't provide the evidence physicists were hoping for.

28 March 2020

Hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic derivativeof chloroquine, is effective in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro (PDF)

Keeping the Wuhan virus away - recommended practices from Johns Hopkins University:

26 March 2020

Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?

"Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate-2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases."

The deaths from identified positive cases are "misleading? because of limited data.

"The real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%."

25 March 2020

Tiny creature from the late Proterozoic era identified as the earliest ancestor of all modern animals.

24 March 2020

Death in the U.S. by the numbers

For 2017, the latest year for which there are numbers, there were 2,813,503 deaths.

That means there were an average of 7,708 deaths per day in the U.S.

From the first Wuhan virus death in the U.S., on February 29th, to date, there have been 624 deaths due to the Wuhan virus.

That means there were an average of 24.88 deaths per day in the U.S. due to the Wuhan virus.

Deaths from the Wuhan virus are 00.32 % of the total deaths per day in the U.S.

To put that number in perspective, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 00.58 %
- almost twice as high.

See the CDC Deaths and Mortality webpage for more information.

The date of the first U.S. Wuhan virus mortality was taken from this news article, and the total number of deaths in the U.S. was taken from here.

The coronavirus did not escape from a lab. Here's how we know.

23 March 2020

Message on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Neither From UNICEF Nor Accurate

The Hidden Epidemic Behind COVID-19: Myths & Misinformation

Protective N95 face masks, regular hand-washing, avoiding any contact with the infected person, coughing and sneezing hygiene, adequate isolation of the affected are the measures suggested.

Death does not happen inevitably with COVID-19 infection. The mortality rate is only 2%, much lesser than the similar strains causing illness like SARS or MERS in the past. Majority of cases are mild infections and the number of uncomplicated cases are on the rise. Death occurs due to pulmonary complications, mainly pneumonia and respiratory failure.

In any case, death is NOT imminent with this virus.

21 March 2020

Chloroquine for the 2019 novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

20 March 2020

France makes 'massive' discovery that old medicines work against coronavirus

Researchers are turning to existing medication for potential use in a new coronavirus treatment.

Chloroquine: What to know about potential coronavirus treatment

Early symptom of coronavirus might be digestive issues

Digestion issues, not respiratory, may be indicator

19 March 2020

Coronavirus swab test from UNC gets results in 4 hours, approved by FDA

University doctors believe they can test 300 patients a day

18 March 2020

Recent fossil discovery sheds light on the origin of modern birds

and how they survived the last mass extinction

Coronavirus and the Sun: a Lesson from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Fresh air, sunlight and improvised face masks seemed to work a century ago; and they might help us now. Open air therapy reduced deaths among hospital patients from 40 per cent to about 13 per cent.

17 March 2020

The simple protein that started all life

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to "flatten the curve"

Even a small nuclear war could cause severe global food shortages

16 March 2020

Coronavirus: Biotech company ships first batches of vaccine, to be tested on humans

Roughly 35 companies and academic institutions are rushing to create a vaccine and at least four have tested it on animals. Moderna, a biotech company in Massachusetts, has already shipped the first batches of its COVID-19 vaccine to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It was said to be ready for human trials in April, but the first patient will receive an experimental dose today.

Our Solar System Is Even Stranger Than We Thought

New research shows a pattern of exoplanet sizes and spacing around other stars unlike what we see in our own system.

15 March 2020

EPA publishes a list of potent ammunition against coronavirus

The Environmental Protection Agency has published a list of disinfecting chemicals and products that have been verified to be effective against the coronavirus.

Because viruses are unique kinds of microorganisms, not all antibacterial products will have the same degree of effectiveness; however, the soaps and cleaners on this list are known to dissolve the virus's "envelope," or outer coating.

In a spot of good news, the EPA states enveloped viruses like SARS-CoV2 are among the easiest to kill using the products on the list. This is partially because the virus envelopes are composed of lipids, which are fatty, oily types of compounds.

Just how you can wash grease from pans, you can scrub away the virus's shell with vigorous, soapy handwashing.

Notable names on the list include the following widely available cleaning products:

? Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner + Bleach

? Clorox Disinfecting Wipes

? Clorox Commercial Solutions? Clorox? Disinfecting Spray

? Lysol brand Heavy-Duty Cleaner Disinfectant Concentrate

? Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist

? Lysol brand Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner

? Purell Professional Surface Disinfectant Wipes

? Sani-Prime Germicidal Spray

You can see the complete list here, courtesy of the EPA.

See also

Disinfectant Concentrations and Contact Times for EPA's List of Products Effective against Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the Cause of COVID-19

14 March 2020

Researchers in U.S., China uncover how coronavirus hijacks human cells

13 March 2020

Tracking chart for the current status on the Coronavirus

Coronavirus vaccine development: Where does it stand?

Seattle woman infected with coronavirus says 'don't panic' when recounting battle with deadly illness

Ireland and Britain aren't part of Trump's coronavirus travel ban. This is why.

Trump's travel ban applies only to countries within the "Schengen area"

Apple says reopening all its branded stores in China

Earth's tilt angle key trigger for ending ice ages

12 March 2020

Scientists crack 58-year-old quantum mystery

The discovery will simplify the control of individual atoms placed in nano electric devices, with implications for overhauling nuclear magnetic resonance - a technique used in a diverse range of fields such as modern physics, medicine, chemistry, and mining.

Tiny bird-like dinosaur smallest ever found

Coronavirus becomes a pandemic: What to know about the classification

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Map of where cases have been confirmed across the country

11 March 2020

Over 50,000 People Have Recovered From Coronavirus Around the World, According to Johns Hopkins

10 March 2020

Giant asteroid apocalypse 13K years ago was witnessed by ancient humans

Giant asteroid strike 13K years ago had 'global consequences'

Earth 'rocked' by KILOMETRE-wide asteroid 12,000 years ago - leaving 19-mile crater only just uncovered

Scientists made a surprise discovery of an enormous crater hiding beneath Greenland's ice sheets

9 March 2020

2,400 in U.S. dead from flu
    21 in U.S. dead from coronavirus
    (3 plus 18 in nursing home in Wa. state)

COVID-1 - Coronavirus Q&A with Dr. Harish Moorjani

7 March 2020

New Research Explains How Solar Panels Could Soon Be Generating Power at Night

Faster-Than-Light Speeds Could Be Why Gamma-Ray Bursts Seem to Go Backwards in Time

5 March 2020

Skulls and skills varied in archaic Homo erectus

Homo erectus was possibly the most successful and longest surviving of any early human. They first popped into the fossil record some 2 million years ago and only went extinct in the last 50,000-100,000 years.

5 March 2020

Medical breakthrough in Israel:
        a lung was removed from the body of a cancer patient, cleaned and returned

The coronavirus outbreak has an unexpected silver lining

The coronavirus has infected close to 90,000 people around the world so far. 45,000 patients have recovered so far, and over 3,000 patients have died.

Footage of the Apollo 16 'Lunar Rover Grand Prix' Upscaled to 4K and 60fps

Here's how to apply to be a NASA astronaut!

2 March 2020

How COVID-19 (Corona virus) Spreads

Behavioural immunisation against the coronavirus

The evolution of a faraway star system
Scientists seize the rare chance to watch it unfold.

1 March 2020

Innovation thrives in partially connected populations
        The finding that looser connections are better is counter-intuitive.

Lyrics and melody receive separate attention once they enter the brain
        "Humans have developed two means of auditory communication: speech and music."

27 February 2020

Billion-year-old green algae is an ancestor of all plants on Earth

24 February 2020

'Hidden Figure' Katherine Johnson Dead At 101
        Don't miss her famous quote on page 245 of the book.


23 February 2020

Physicists Take Their Closest Look Yet at an Antimatter Atom

19 February 2020

SpaceX will launch humans to space for the first time

Researchers make solar efficiency breakthrough

17 February 2020

How planetary building blocks were constructed

Maths and the art of topology

Topology is a branch of mathematics concerned with space and deformation.

See also How art merges with maths
to explore continuity, change, and exotic states

New research explains the strange electron flow in future materials

Watching on as Betelgeuse dims
        The star is down to about a third of its normal brightness, and its shape is changing.

15 February 2020

NASA's New Horizons mission sheds new light on how planets form

14 February 2020

SpaceX to launch 60 internet Starlink satellites in one day
        The launch will be SpaceX's third one for 2020 already

10 February 2020

Expedition reveals the violent birth of Zealandia
        for more, read about the discovery of Zealandia continent
        Earth's hidden continent was shaped by two tectonic events.

6 February 2020

The largest ever study of cancer genetics, involving more than 1300 researchers across four continents, has catalogued a trove of cancer mutations in a vast, open access, computer cloud database.

3 February 2020

Physicists have cooled a nanoparticle to the lowest temperature quantum mechanics allows - a temperature of roughly minus 273 degrees Celsius - by reducing its motion to the ground state

2 February 2020

Two trillion galaxies

30 January 2020

Magnetic field moves electrons into concentric circles

Humans not to blame for genetic diversity loss
        Same old story - diversity loss caused by the need to adapt to differing habitats.

Siberian cave yields trove of Neanderthal blades linked to eastern Europe

A mega library of nanoparticles

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which uses infrared light to study the cosmos,
        will be formally retired today after 16 years

The new Inouye Solar Telescope has produced the most detailed solar images
        ever taken, showing structures as small as 30 kilometres.

26 January 2020

The Hubble Constant - calculating it different ways gives different answers

The five worst mass extinctions

24 January 2020

Java Man - First human species out of Africa - reached Asia later than thought

The Super Bowl of Astronomy

Earth's oldest known impact structure coincides with the end of Snowball Earth
    After Snowball Earth there is no record of large-scale glaciation for 400 million years

Children's graves reveal genetic diversity of ancient West Africa

Possible Bigfoot spotting?

22 January 2020

Unusual gravitational waves hit Earth

21 January 2020

40-ton whale jumps completely out of the water

19 January 2020

SpaceX blew up a rocket and this time it's great news

17 January 2020

Neandertal birch tar-hafted tool proves abstract conceptualization ability
"The production of birch tar adhesives was a major technological development, demonstrating complex Neandertal technology and advanced cognitive ability."


A tar-backed tool from the present-day North Sea reveals the use of complex technology by Neandertals.   This article reports the discovery of a 50,000-year-old birch tar-hafted flint tool found off the present-day coastline of The Netherlands.   The production of birch tar adhesives and multicomponent tools was a major technological development.   It is considered complex technology and has a prominent place in discussions about the evolution of human behavior.   This find provides evidence on the technological capabilities of Neandertals and illuminates the currently debated conditions under which these technologies could be maintained.   The find demonstrates that birch tar was a routine part of the Neandertal technological repertoire.   Dating the geological provenance of the artifact firmly associates it with a host of Middle Paleolithic stone tools and a Neandertal fossil.   The object is a piece of birch tar, encompassing one-third of a flint flake.   This find demonstrates that Neandertals mastered complex adhesive production strategies and composite tool use.   The discovery also shows that a large population size is not a necessary condition for complex behavior and technology.

In a related article, the author states that "Neandertals used artificial adhesives to haft, or better handle, stone tools across their entire geographic range and since at least 200,000 years ago."   That is almost 130,000 years prior to H. Sapiens' final mental evolutionary change 70,000 years ago, and about 145,000 years before H. Sapiens made their way into the parts of Eurasia where H. Neanderthalis lived.

This is clear evidence that Neandertals possessed the ability for abstract conceptualization.   Abstract conceptualization is the mental capability that makes possible reasoning and thinking, which replaces the instinctual behavior that is otherwise universal among animals.   This discovery also makes clear that abstract conceptualization at some level preceded H. Sapiens.

14 January 2020

7 Billion-Year-Old Stardust Is Oldest Material Found on Earth
        Some of these ancient grains are billions of years older than our sun.
        See the research article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

13 January 2020

Cancer Metastasis Has More to Do with Wound Healing than You Might Think
        "Metastasis is wound healing gone wrong."

9 January 2020

New image of the Milky Way's center could help explain why its heart is missing stars

How protons and neutrons behave inside an atom
        That behavior is different from their behavior as individual particles

7 January 2020

NASA's alien planet hunter discovers its first Earth-sized planet in 'habitable-zone'

2020's first meteor shower seen from space

4,000-year-old guide to Egyptian underworld could be oldest illustrated 'book'

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