Wednesday, 5 August 2015

We had no idea! An appreciation of science’s discoveries

The recent visit to Pluto by New Horizons has clearly captured a lot of people's attention. It's the first time in many years since we've seen an entirely new world, complete with geology and moons. For anyone younger than 25, it's not happened in their lifetime at all.

For me, however, it's a bit like coming full circle. I hadn't quite entered my teens when the Voyagers flew past Jupiter, and I recall it as being the point where I first really started paying attention to science. The Voyagers revealed the staggering violence of the planet's clouds and found that the planet-sized moons were alive with activity. The Solar System never quite looked the same again and, in a lot of ways, the whole Universe didn't. The Voyagers drove home in a big way how we could not only found out new things, but we could often manage to make sense out of them.

New Horizons got me thinking about all the different ways science has changed what we know about the world in the 35 or so years between the Voyagers reaching Jupiter and the present. So, I put together a completely arbitrary list of some of the discoveries that have happened in the intervening years.

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Study Finds that Future Deployment of Distributed Solar Hinges on Electricity Rate Design

Future distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment levels are highly sensitive to retail electricity rate design, according to a

The post Study Finds that Future Deployment of Distributed Solar Hinges on Electricity Rate Design has been published on Technology Org.

 
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A Pyrotechnic Artwork by Cai Guo-Qiang Explodes into a Blossom on the Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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images via chrisstorb

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In 2009, Cai Guo-Qiang was commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to create a site-specific explosion event on the front facade of the museum. The project, titled Fallen Blossomsused a gunpowder fuse, metal net, and scaffolding to activate a blossom pattern for 60 seconds, temporarily setting the columns of the building ablaze.

The fuse for the flower was lit on December 11 at sunset for a large audience. The title for the event and corresponding exhibition is derived from a classical Chinese proverb “hua kai hua luo” which comments on the extreme loss felt when a life is ended unexpectedly. The title and event were also meant as a tribute to the Museum’s late director, Anne d’Harnoncourt.

Guo-Qiang currently lives and works in New York, but was born and trained in stage design in China. Not limited to one medium, Guo-Qiang works in installation, drawing, performance and video art. During his 9-year stay in Japan he explored the use of gunpowder in his work which eventually led to his large scale explosion events. Guo-Qiang was notably the Director of Visual and Special Effects for both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (via cerceos)

 
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Funding aimed at fusion energy awarded to laboratory collaboration

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced a two-year, \$3.8 million award for Sandia

The post Funding aimed at fusion energy awarded to laboratory collaboration has been published on Technology Org.

 
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What’s This Ridge on Iapetus?

The strangest feature on Iapetus is the equatorial ridge. What could possibly create a feature like this? To

The post What’s This Ridge on Iapetus? has been published on Technology Org.

 
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Controversial DNA test comes to UK

A personal DNA test that has sparked controversy in the US has launched in the UK. 
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8 animal plagues wreaking havoc right now

When we talk about studying, controlling, or just plain worrying about pandemics, we usually think of our own, human diseases. But many other species face existential threats as well. In the wild and on the farm, through climate change, human agency, and other causes, deadly diseases and conditions are ravaging specific animal communities. Here are eight of the scariest diseases plaguing the animal kingdom today.

Plague: White-nose syndrome
Target: Bats

This disease is named for the characteristic fuzzy white bloom found on the muzzles (as well as the wings and ears) of hibernating bats infected with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus seems to have originated in Europe, where it does not harm the native bats. Since it was first documented in New York in 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed an estimated 6.7 million bats in 25 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. Scientists believe bats primarily contract the disease from one another, though it's also possible bats can pick up spores from contaminated cave surfaces. Some human cave explorers may also transport fungal spores in their clothing and equipment. There's no known cure, and the disease is incredibly deadly, usually killing between 70 and 90 percent of bats in a hibernating group; scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how the fungus kills bats, and why European bats seem to be immune.

(More from World Science Festival: 12 animals we've driven to extinction in the last 50 years)

Plague: Canine distemper virus
Target: Tigers (and dogs, and other canines)

The virus that causes canine distemper is related to measles. It spreads through respiration, but quickly attacks the nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. The virus can also jump to big cats, and is cropping up in tiger populations across the world. In just five years, one population of tigers in Russia dropped from 38 individuals to nine; traces of CDV found in two dead tigers led scientists to finger the virus as the chief suspect in the population crash.

A recent study highlights how smaller populations of tigers are extremely vulnerable to CDV. Tigers are not abundant enough to act as reservoirs for the virus, so researchers think the key to preventing CDV from spreading amongst them is to target the canine species that are the sources of outbreaks. India is contemplating a massive dog vaccination campaign against the virus; the drive is already underway in villages near tiger reserves.

Plague: Starfish wasting disease
Target: Starfish

Over the past 40 years, starfish populations have been stricken by recurring outbreaks of a devastating condition. At first, a starfish's limbs start to curl, then twist and fall off. Eventually, the wasting disease ravages the entire starfish, turning it into a mushy goo.

Researchers previously blamed this "starfish wasting disease" on environmental changes, like pollution or fluctuations in ocean temperatures. But a new study pins the blame primarily on a type of waterborne virus called a densovirus. One of the chief lines of evidence to support this theory was the fact that captive starfish in aquariums suddenly contracted the disease — except for those starfish in aquariums filled with UV-treated water, which kills viruses. The researchers also found higher genetic traces of the virus in diseased starfish tissue, and found that healthy starfish infected with densovirus would develop the disease within a week or so.

Plague: Brucellosis
Target: Bison, cow, elk

The bacterial disease brucellosis causes a wide range of symptoms in animals, from arthritis to inflamed joints to reproductive trouble. It can also spread to people via unpasteurized dairy products, causing fever and flu-like symptoms as well as arthritis. While brucellosis has largely been eradicated from cattle in the U.S., the disease persists in the bison and elk of Yellowstone National Park. Fears that the wild animals could reintroduce brucellosis to nearby cattle have been bolstered by 17 documented transmissions of the disease from wildlife to livestock in the greater Yellowstone area from 2002 to 2012. Despite protests from conservation groups, park officials are planning to cull up to 900 bison from the herd this winter to stem the spread of brucellosis and stabilize the population.

Plague: Colony collapse disorder
Target: Honeybees

Starting in 2006, beekeepers in the U.S. began to notice what looked like a honeybee version of the Rapture: At once, most or all of the adult worker bees in the colony vanished without a trace, leaving behind empty hives and queen bees bereft of subjects. Colony collapse disorder, as the phenomenon came to be known, is not entirely new to beekeeping, but the magnitude of losses is unprecedented. The root cause of CCD is still unknown: Pesticides, viruses, mites, fungi, antibiotics, and other factors have all been proposed.

(More from World Science Festival: How fear happens)

Most scientists think CCD is prompted by a combination of factors, and that it may not directly kill the bees outright. University of Maryland bee expert Dennis van Engelsdorp explained, in National Geographic: "You don't die of AIDS; you die of pneumonia or some other condition that hits when your immunity is down." Once the bees' immune defenses have been weakened, "we're pretty sure in all these cases, diseases are the tipping point." Hive losses are still being felt across the country, but the rate of collapse seems to be slowing. According to the USDA, the loss rate in honeybee colonies nationwide over the 2013-2014 winter from all causes was 23.2 percent — still above what beekeepers consider sustainable, but less dire than the 30.5 percent losses of the 2012-13 winter, or the 8-year average annual loss of 29.6 percent.

Plague: Rabies
Target: Bats, monkeys, dogs, raccoons, foxes….and a lot more

Rabies is present on all the continents of the world except Antarctica. The virus, transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal or person, travels through the nerves up to the brain, where it undoes an animal's ability to regulate its own heartbeat, breathing, and salivation. Most victims die from respiratory failure or irregular heart rhythms.

In the U.S., vaccination drives for pets have caused the disease has to move from one primarily of domestic animals to one primarily found in wildlife, which represent 90 percent of all animal rabies cases reported to the CDC. Most mammals can contract rabies, but the primary source of human rabies transmission in the U.S. these days is bats, with raccoons and skunksthe most frequently reported rabid animals.

To prevent the spread of rabies, health and wildlife departments in many Eastern U.S. states entice animals to consume oral rabies vaccine by concealing doses in a coating of dog food or fishmeal. The bait is deposited by hand in urban and suburban areas and dropped from planes in rural areas.

Plague: Chytridiomycosis
Target: Frogs

Around 200 amphibian species have declined or gone extinct thanks to this rapidly-spreading fungal disease. The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infects the cells of a frog's outer layer of skin, which they rely heavily on for respiration. The infected skin becomes thicker, impeding the frog's ability to absorb water and electrolytes through its skin, and eventually leading to cardiac arrest.

Various treatments are being investigated for chytridiomycosis, including incubating tadpoles in warmer water that kills the fungus and bathing adult frogs in antifungal treatments. While these methods show promise, it is still possible for the frogs to get re-infected out in the wild.

Plague: Cattle fever
Target: Cows, deer

The U.S. government employs a cadre of cowboys to ride the banks of the Rio Grande in order to stop the spread of ticks that cause cattle fever. Parasites transmitted by the ticks can kill a cow within days of the first symptoms, or can cause a wasting disease that can last for weeks and cut a steer's weight by 20 percent in just a year. A nationwide tick eradication program has largely pushed cattle fever out of U.S. borders, but the "tick rider" cowboys still patrol the borders to catch any stray Mexican cattle — often abandoned by ranchers fleeing drug war violence — that might spark an outbreak.

(More from World Science Festival: 9 short scientific answers to little mysteries of life)

Wildlife are another possible source of cattle fever, as both white-tailed deer and the imported nilgai antelope can also carry the ticks. Climate change may make the southern U.S. an even more hospitable environment for the ticks, as well as the spread of invasive reeds that shelter the bugs. Scientists are working on ways to combat the reeds, the ticks, and the cattle fever parasite — including a wildlife vaccine distributed in biscuit form.

 
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 » see original post http://theweek.com/articles/441695/8-animal-plagues-wreaking-havoc-right-now

Right now, Amazon occupies the moral low-ground and there is no financial incentive for them to...

Right now, Amazon occupies the moral low-ground and there is no financial incentive for them to to do more than the minimum. Let's change that.

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A New Mural by Seth Globepainter on the Streets of Montreal

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This clever new mural by Julien Malland, aka Seth Globepainter (previously here and here) just appeared on the streets of Montreal. The piece depicts two children running into each other in his trademark faceless style, but also incorporates the building’s brick facade to create their pixelated clothes. The mural was organized by MU, an organization that coordinates murals around Montreal “to trigger a social transformation and to turn Montreal into an open-air art gallery.” (via This Isn’t Happiness, StreetArtNews)

 
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Radiation Safety for Sunken-Ship Archaeology

About 42 miles southwest of San Francisco and 2,600 feet underwater sits the U.S.S. Independence, a bombed-out relic

The post Radiation Safety for Sunken-Ship Archaeology has been published on Technology Org.

 
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