Category Archive : Science

There is absolutely nothing inherently special about the asteroid Bennu. A loosely-packed agglomeration of dust and rock about as big across as the Empire State Building and currently 322 million km (200 million mi.) from Earth as it orbits the sun, it is just one of about a million asteroids that astronomers have identified and catalogued. But on Tuesday, Bennu became the most famous asteroid in the solar system, after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made contact with it for a dramatic six seconds to blast loose and collect a sample.

“I must have watched about a hundred times last night,” said Dante Lauretta, the missions’s principal investigator, during a press conference yesterday, while talking about a video clip recorded by the probe during its harrowing maneuver, seen below. “We really did make a mess on the surface of this asteroid, but it’s a good mess.”

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Asteroids are more than just space debris—they are some of the oldest, most pristine samples known of the early solar system. Studying their elemental composition can yield clues to planetary formation, cosmic chemistry and even the emergence of life on Earth. But first you’ve got to get a sample of them, and that’s where OSIRIS-REx—for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer—comes in.

The SUV-sized OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016, arriving at Bennu two years later. It went into orbit around the asteroid, studying it in search of a smooth spot with loose soil and few boulders, making sample collection both easy and safe. But NASA investigators almost immediately realized they were out of luck—Bennu’s surface is almost nothing but boulders. Mission planners hoped for a target site hundreds of feet across, but they settled on one in a region near the asteroid’s north pole that they dubbed Nightingale Crater, which measures just 8 m (26 …read more

Source:: Time – Science


On Oct. 20, researchers at the Imperial College of London announced plans for the first human challenge study of COVID-19, which involves deliberately infecting volunteers with the virus that causes the disease, in order to test the effectiveness of vaccines.

The strategy is controversial, as researchers have to weigh the risks of infection against the benefits of learning how well the various vaccine candidates can fight that infection. The strongest argument in favor of the studies has to do with time. If cases of COVID-19 are waning, then the likelihood that people who are vaccinated would get exposed to and potentially infected with the virus naturally declines as well, and it takes researchers longer to accumulate enough data to tell if a vaccine is effective or not. By intentionally exposing people to the virus after they have been vaccinated, researchers can shrink this timeline significantly.

Scientists have used the model to test vaccines against a number of different diseases, including the very first one against smallpox—Edward Jenner infected his son with cowpox, and then exposed his son to smallpox as a way to test his theory that exposure to the former would protect his son from infection by the latter. Scientists tested an H1N1 influenza vaccine by exposing people to the flu, and did the same with a cholera vaccine and the bacterium that causes it. But the strategy requires a solid base of information about both the disease and the vaccine in order to justify the risks. More recently, for example, scientists considered intentionally infecting volunteers with the Zika virus to test vaccines against that disease, but ultimately decided they didn’t have enough data to justify the risk.

Adair Richards, honorary associate professor at the University of Warwick who last May published guidelines on how to ethically conduct …read more

Source:: Time – Science


It sounds like the tagline for the world’s lamest horror movie: Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your spin class…

But last week, a single fitness studio in Hamilton, Ontario, was linked to more than 72 positive cases of COVID-19, with an additional 2,500 people potentially exposed. What’s shocking is that the gym seemingly did almost everything right: six-foot distancing, 50 percent capacity, screening customers, a robust sanitizing regime. “This is not about how well the gym was run; this is about how COVID spreads,” Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, explained to The Spec. “If you let people hangout together, without masks, sharing air, in the same space for a prolonged period of time … this was going to happen anyways.”

Just look at Europe, where the World Health Organization is reporting “exponential increases” in cases, and warns that the daily death toll could balloon to five times what it was during the peak in April. It appears that the spike there, too, is linked to increased indoor activity — like the Hamilton spin studio outbreak, but on a macro scale. For the moment, the United States has a brief respite from being the rest of the world’s cautionary tale about what not to do during a pandemic, but the message we’re receiving from overseas is abundantly clear: it isn’t safe yet to go back indoors.

How’s the US doing on coronavirus compared to the EU?

For six months, poorly.

Right now, both trending badly but EU doing worse, with cases exploding.

— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 15, 2020

After the initial explosion of cases in Europe in February and March, as the disease was still emerging globally, the continent appeared to get the crisis …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


Laws have long been portable things. Human beings settled frontiers with tools and muscle—and too often with weapons, seizing lands that belong to others. One other thing the settlers also brought along were their legal systems, rules of the road to govern their behavior in the new communities they built. That was true when all our exploring was terrestrial, and it remained true when we ventured into space. As long ago as 1967—just six years after the first human spaceflight—the U.S. and other signatory nations established the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies—better known simply as the “Outer Space Treaty.” The pact bound partner nations to use space only for peaceful purposes, to forswear claims of sovereignty over any region beyond Earth, to lend aid to astronauts in distress, and more.

Now that old law has a new follow-up. On Oct. 13, NASA announced the completion of what it has called the Artemis Accords, an agreement among eight partner nations to cooperate and collaborate in future explorations of the moon and Mars, especially via participation in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon before the end of 2024. The seven other signatories to the pact include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Italy. But the accords are, in a sense, open source, with other countries invited to join if they both agree with the pact’s provisions and contribute to the joint enterprise in some way.

“Both the foreign ministries and the space agencies of the various nations were involved in developing the accords,” says Mike Gold, NASA’s acting administrator for the office of international and …read more

Source:: Time – Science


(MOSCOW) — A trio of space travelers has launched successfully to the International Space Station, for the first time using a fast-track maneuver to reach the orbiting outpost in just three hours.

NASA’s Kate Rubins along with Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos lifted off as scheduled Wednesday morning from the Russia-leased Baikonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan for a six-month stint on the station.

For the first time, they are trying a two-orbit, three-hour approach to the orbiting space outpost. Previously it took twice as long for the crews to reach the station.

They will join the station’s NASA commander, Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been aboard the complex since April and are scheduled to return to Earth in a week.

Speaking during Tuesday’s pre-launch news conference at Baikonur, Rubins emphasized that the crew spent weeks in quarantine at the Star City training facility outside Moscow and then on Baikonur to avoid any threat from the coronavirus.

“We spent two weeks at Star City and then 17 days at Baikonur in a very strict quarantine,” Rubins said. “During all communications with crew members, we were wearing masks. We made PCR tests twice and we also made three times antigen fast tests.”

She said she was looking forward to scientific experiments planned for the mission.

“We’re planning to try some really interesting things like bio-printing tissues and growing cells in space and, of course, continuing our work on sequencing DNA,” Rubins said.

Ryzhikov, who will be the station’s skipper, said the crew will try to pinpoint the exact location of a leak at a station’s Russian section that has slowly leaked oxygen. The small leak hasn’t posed any immediate danger to the crew.

“We will take with us additional equipment which will allow us to detect the …read more

Source:: Time – Science