STEM wins big in Congress
Science may have been one of the biggest winners in Tuesday’s elections. At least seven new members of Congress have science, engineering, math, technology or medical backgrounds and six kept their seats.
But others decided to run for office, and a new crop will take their seats in January. Among them are Joe Cunningham, who used his background in ocean engineering to campaign against offshore drilling. Cunningham, a Democrat, beat ardent Trump supporter Katie Arrington and will represent South Carolina’s coastal 1st District.
“We are pretty proud of these candidates,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, a former drug researcher who founded 314 Action, a political action committee that trains and supports STEM candidates for office.
“Right now there are more talk radio show hosts in Congress than there are chemists and physicists,” Naughton told NBC News.
She’s hoping new senators and representatives can bring a bit more science into the political process, which she feels has been dominated too long by ideology that is not always based in fact.
Naughton is not sure how much they can accomplish. “As long as we have a president who denies the reality of climate change, it’s hard to see how we’ll get anything signed,” she said.
Three veteran physicians held their seats in the House – Republicans Michael Burgess of Texas and Andy Harris of Maryland and Democrat Ami Bera of California. Joe Barrasso of Wyoming held his Senate seat.
Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and trained physicist, held his seat, as did pharmacist Buddy Carter of Georgia held his seat and John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican with a chemistry background. Jerry McNerney, a mathematician and renewable energy specialist, held his California seat.
And the first registered nurse ever elected to Congress, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, held her seat and is poised to take over as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She’ll replace fellow Texan Lamar Smith, a Republican who is retiring and who was detested by many critics for his efforts to limit research on the causes of climate change and for harassing government scientists.
“We also had at least 31 state and local candidates win,” said 314 Action’s Ted Bordelon.
Not every STEM candidate won. Health care entrepreneur Phil Bredesen lost to veteran Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee’s Senate race. Aerospace engineer Joseph Kopser lost to Chip Roy in Texas, who has denounced what he calls “hysteria” over climate change. And biochemist Randy Wadkins lost to Republican incumbent Trent Kelly in Mississippi.
Maggie Fox is senior writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news and analysis on health policy, science, medical treatments and disease.
November 08, 2018
ritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes. </p><p>WASHINGTON — The moon may be the next space destination for American astronauts, but the frontier of Mars still beckons, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine says.</p><p>Bridenstine said that, alongside Mars research efforts, going to the moon will be a critical step if we are to successfully land and house humans on the Red Planet. He joked about his responsibility as the new administrator, having been in the position for only six months, saying, "I'm responsible for getting us to Mars."</p><p>In the short time since Bridenstine became administrator, researchers have already made critical discoveries about Mars that make our efforts to get to the planet that much more exciting.</p><p>Mars' history is a major reason the Red Planet is so intriguing, Bridenstine said. "Mars used to have three-fourths of its surface covered by an ocean. It used to have a strong magnetosphere that protected it from that harsh radiation environment. It used to have a thick atmosphere, and over a billion years ago, all of these things went away when its magnetosphere went away.</p><p>"We need to understand what caused that to happen," he added. "We need to get a better understanding of these other planets, their histories and their futures so that we can get a better understanding of our own planet."</p><p>This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.</p>
ritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes. </p><p>The pilot contacted Shannon air traffic control to check if there were military exercises and was told that there were no exercises in the area, the report said. Another pilot said the speed was “astronomical, it was like Mach 2,” which is twice the speed of sound, the report said.</p><p>Another pilot in a Virgin plane theorized that the lights could have been a meteor or another object re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. He also observed “two bright lights” to his right which “climbed away at speed,” the BBC reported.</p><p>The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is investigating the reports.</p><p>"Following reports from a small number of aircraft on Friday 9 November of unusual air activity the IAA has filed a report," the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said, according to BBC. "This report will be investigated under the normal confidential occurrence investigation process."</p><p>A spokesman for the IAA told The Times that the UFOs were unlikely to be aliens from another planet.</p><p>This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.</p>
y system will undergo a huge transformation. Wind and solar power are poised to become dominant sources of electricity. China’s once-relentless appetite for coal is set to wane. The amount of oil we use to fuel our cars could peak and decline.</p><p>But there’s a catch: The global march toward clean energy still isn’t happening fast enough to avoid dangerous global warming, at least not unless governments put forceful new policy measures in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. </p><p>Around the world, the electricity sector “is experiencing its most dramatic transformation since its creation more than a century ago,” the report said. One big factor is the rapid growth of wind and solar power.</p><p>Over the past five years, the average cost of solar power has declined 65 percent and the cost of onshore wind has fallen 15 percent. The energy agency predicts those prices will keep tumbling as technology improves and governments scale back subsidies. Solar plants are becoming well-placed to outcompete new coal plants almost everywhere.</p><p>“Our solar expectations are about 20 percent higher than they were last year, both because of new policies in China and India and because the costs are coming down so fast,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director.</p><p>For decades, developing countries like China and India have turned to coal as the cheapest, easiest way to power their economies and lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a big reason carbon dioxide emissions have skyrocketed. </p><p>And, while countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere are still drawing up plans to build new coal plants, the agency expects this frenzy of construction to slow sharply after 2020. </p><p>But don’t expect coal to disappear altogether. While the era of rapid coal growth is fading, the agency projects that global coal consumption could stay flat for decades. One reason for that: The average coal plant in Asia is less than 15 years old (compared to about 41 years in the United States). Those plants will keep polluting for decades, unless countries decide to retire them early or develop technology to capture and bury their emissions. </p><p>Even as the world puts hundreds of millions of new cars on the road, we’re increasingly using less oil to fuel them. The report projects that global oil use for cars will peak by the mid-2020s as countries ratchet up their fuel-economy standards and deploy more electric vehicles.</p><p>Those sectors haven’t seen the same improvements in efficiency. As a result, the agency expects global oil demand to keep rising through 2040, led by developing countries.</p><p>One reason: Carbon-free sources like wind, solar and nuclear power aren’t yet growing fast enough to keep up with rising global energy demand, particularly in places like India and Southeast Asia. That means fossil fuel use keeps growing to fill the gap.</p><p>Governments will play a key role: The report notes that the world invests $2 trillion annually in energy infrastructure, and 70 percent of that is directed by state-owned companies or regulators. “That tells me that our energy destiny will rely heavily on government decisions in the next two decades,” Mr. Birol said.</p>
ritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes. </p><p>A new study from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system, could be 'a lightsail of artificial origin' sent from another civilization.</p><p>But that idea, while exciting to many, is preposterous and just "wild speculation," according to the physicist and astronomer who discovered it.</p><p>"There's a maximum speed that you can be traveling to be bound gravitationally by the sun," Weryk told the Canadian outlet. "When we first saw this object, it was traveling faster than that, so we know for a fact that it's from outside our solar system. We decided that it was a comet that had a bit of outgassing that wasn't visible from the ground, which is why it didn't appear to be a comet."</p><p>He continued: "(The Harvard researchers) decided to focus on another aspect of that, that it's an alien spacecraft and that it has a solar sail type material that's causing the non-gravitational trajectory. But we actually believe that's not true based on the data we obtained."</p><p>Weryk made the discovery of Oumuamua, which is the Hawaiian name for "pathfinder" or "scout," in October 2017 with the PanSTARRS1 telescope.</p><p>The paper continued: "Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative. The lightsail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars."</p><p>The researchers even theorized that Oumuamua "may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," though that scenario was called "exotic."</p><p>Oumuamua is traveling away from the Sun at a rate of approximately 70,000 mph, towards the outer part of the solar system. In approximately four years, it will whiz past Neptune's orbit, on its way to interstellar space.</p><p>"I think it's a remnant from another solar system. It's just something that happened to run into us, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction," Weryk told CBC.</p><p>He added: "It's been theoretically predicted for decades but we've never seen one. Until we see another one, there are a lot of questions that we just can't answer."</p><p>Fox News has reached out to the Harvard astrophysicists with a request for comment on this story.</p><p>This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.</p>
Mission to hunt aliens on Mars reveals landing site where extraterrestrial life most likely to be found
ritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes. </p><p>Scientists have picked the landing site of a robot mission to Mars which will search for signs of alien life.</p><p>Experts working on the joint European-Russian project have picked an area called Oxia Planum, as it is thought the site once contained a large body of water billions of years ago.</p><p>The other main contender was Mawrth Vallis – a channel formed by huge flooding between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands.</p><p>Aram Dorsum which is found in the highlands of Arabia Terra, north of the Crommelin crater, was also on the shortlist of possibilities.</p><p>The decision is expected to be officially confirmed next year when it is signed off by the heads of the project.</p><p>Group member Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester said after four years of careful study the site had been picked because its fine sediments would be ideal for the rover’s drill.</p><p>He said: “With an enormous catchment area the sediments will have captured organics from a wide variety of environments over a long period of time, including areas where life may have existed.</p><p>“A large group of scientists have been working on proposing, characterizing and down selecting the sites, all of which had fascinating aspects, but Oxia Planum is the clear winner on both science and engineering constraints.”</p><p>Layers of clay-rich minerals found in the area also suggest it was once the location of a massive lake.</p><p>It is hoped the rover will drill two meters below the planet’s surface hunting for signs there was life on the planet around four billion years ago when there was water on the planet.</p><p>Jorge Vago, a ExoMars project scientist with the European Space Agency (ESA), said: “With ExoMars we are on a quest to find biosignatures.</p><p>“While both sites offer valuable scientific opportunities to explore ancient water-rich environments that could have been colonized by microorganisms, Oxia Planum received the majority of votes."</p><p>Landing a robot on Mars has proved difficult in the past so the choice had to consider where the most likely sites were against the chances of being able to actually land a craft in the area.</p><p>It is thought the low-lying Oxia Planum area will provide more time for a parachute to slow the robot’s descent onto the surface.</p><p>ESA’s head of space exploration Sue Horne said: “Our end goal is in sight and it is getting very exciting.”</p><p>This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.</p>
g bus,” said Juliessa Diclo Cruz, 10, as she rode in back of one of New York State’s first-ever electric school buses on a chilly October morning.</p><p>It was easy to see why. The rumbling diesel engines on conventional yellow school buses can be heard a block away. But the five new battery-powered buses in White Plains, which went into service this fall, run so quietly that they have to play a four-tone melody for safety as they roam the streets.</p><p>The school district’s five singing buses — which cost $365,000 apiece, more than three times the price of a new diesel bus with modern pollution controls — are still a rarity. Of the roughly 480,000 school buses in the United States, only a few hundred are fully electric. </p><p>But that’s slowly changing. State officials are looking to limit children’s exposure to the harmful exhaust from older diesel buses. They’re also increasingly concerned about the carbon emissions that drive global warming. At the same time, the price of electric buses, while still out of reach for most school districts, keeps falling as technology improves. </p><p>“We see this as the beginning of something that’s very cutting edge,” said Joseph Baker, senior vice president of operations at National Express, the company that operates the school buses in White Plains. “We often joke that someday these White Plains buses will be in a museum.”</p><p>Similar experiments are proliferating across the country. California has already spent millions of dollars to help budget-strapped school districts purchase dozens of new electric buses, while New York and Massachusetts have funded their own smaller projects.</p><p>Those efforts could soon get a boost from an unlikely source. </p><p>In the meantime, school administrators are carefully monitoring early projects to make sure the buses have sufficient range and run reliably. </p><p>As Bayard Guerson, 50, drove one of the new buses through White Plains to pick up elementary school students one morning last month, he checked the digital console on his dashboard showing how much charge he had left: 56 miles’ worth. It was more than enough to travel the 19 miles of his morning routes before he’d plug in the vehicle to recharge for the afternoon.</p><p>“I could go the whole day without charging,” he said. “But it’s like your cellphone: better to charge all the time.”</p><p>Eventually, as charging stations become more common across the state, worries about range could dissipate. For now, though, the White Plains district is mainly using its electric buses for its shortest school routes. And administrators are hesitant to use them for out-of-town field trips, like one to the Bronx Zoo, about 16 miles away. </p><p>On dependability, officials in White Plains give the buses, which were made by Lion Electric, a Quebec-based company, a passing grade. “So far, so good,” said Sergio Alfonso, the district’s director of transportation. “We always expect issues with new technology, but we haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary yet.”</p><p>Lion Electric says it has learned from those early missteps and is training mechanics in White Plains, as well as helping to establish a service center nearby in New Jersey for more serious problems.</p><p>White Plains was only able to afford its five buses with outside help. National Express received a state grant that offset $120,000 of the cost of each vehicle. The company then set up a partnership with Consolidated Edison, the local electric utility, which agreed to chip in another $100,000 per bus.</p><p>The grid project is one of the first of its kind, and, in theory, could be a way for utilities to help finance electric school buses elsewhere in the state. As New York builds more solar and wind power, it will need lots of new energy storage. The utility plans to test the buses’ batteries next summer to see how they hold up under heavy use and to check whether the economics work.</p><p>In California, the Twin Rivers Unified School District in North Sacramento has purchased 16 electric school buses over the past year with a combination of state and local aid. </p><p>To date, according to Timothy Shannon, the district’s transportation director, the electric buses have cost about 75 percent less to fuel. They use smart chargers to power up during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower. And, with fewer moving parts, they cost 60 percent less to maintain.</p><p>But even with those savings, Mr. Shannon said, the upfront cost of electric buses would have to fall considerably for school districts to consider buying them without outside help.</p><p>According to Marc Bédard, the chief executive of Lion Electric, that day could come sooner than many expect. </p><p>“Within seven years, we think electric school buses will get to a similar price as diesel,” Mr. Bédard said. “But it’s all changing so fast. Three years ago, there was a lot of skepticism about whether electric buses were even feasible. Now, we’re not talking about whether they’re feasible. It’s all about how to make the business case work.”</p><p>For now, not all states are convinced that electric buses are the way to go. </p><p>Arizona plans to spend $38 million of its Volkswagen funds to replace its oldest school buses, but will focus primarily on propane or cleaner diesel technology. In its analysis, the state found it could buy 150 such buses for the cost of fewer than 50 electric buses and eliminate far more pollution overall.</p><p>Beyond the economic factors, school administrators in White Plains see an intangible value in electric buses: They’re educational. </p><p>The district has been integrating environmental lessons into its curriculum, offering a farm-to-table elective and encouraging students to compost. The buses represent another teachable moment.</p><p>“It’s a tremendous learning experience,” said Joseph Ricca, superintendent of the White Plains school district. “It’s one thing to read about this in a book, it’s another to get on and actually ride it.”</p>
ldlife. Biologist Wagner Fischer has been monitoring its grim toll for more than two decades.</p><p>Whenever Wagner Fischer drives, he notices the roadkill.</p><p>As a graduate student in the 1990s, Dr. Fischer, now a biologist with the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, traveled through Brazil’s Pantanal, a tropical wetland the size of Wisconsin, and the largest freshwater wetland in the world. From his motorcycle, he saw monkeys swinging from roadside trees; capybaras slept on the shoulder. He was looking for fishing bats, the subject of his graduate research. But he was fascinated and appalled by the roadside carnage: caimans, anacondas, giant black-necked storks called jabirus and, once, a dead giant anteater with her cub, still alive, clutching her back. </p><p>The region’s main road, the BR-262, is a long thread of tarmac through the carpet of green, connecting the growing cities of Campo Grande and Corumbá, 430 miles apart. Dr. Fischer began taking photographs, thousands of them, and tallying the species along the road. He shared his unpublished results with other researchers and government officials. </p><p>“Everyone from the scientific community kept asking me, ‘When are you going to publish that?’” Mr. Fischer recalled recently. </p><p>The highway rises from the surrounding wetlands like an island, tempting wildlife, Dr. Fischer said: “It’s a trap for fauna, and they don’t know the risk.”</p><p>The Pantanal is filigreed with rivers and streams that flood during the rainy season. Much of it is enclosed in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which increasingly is quilted with cattle ranches and soybean farms. Over the years, Dr. Fischer’s colleagues began noticing a steady rise in the roadkill figures.</p><p>Throughout Brazil, roads are littered with carcasses representing the country’s 1,775 bird species and 623 mammal species. Large mammals are at greater risk in southern Brazil, including the Pantanal and dry savanna, whereas birds are at higher risk in the Amazon, according to Manuela González-Suárez, a biologist at the University of Reading in England. </p><p>“When I got the total number, I was just completely blown away,” Ms. González-Suárez said. “Out of these 8 million birds, maybe some of those are fairly common ones, where maybe this is not a problem. But we don’t know, exactly. Are we going to lose all birds in Brazil? Probably no. But it would be nice to know, what should we be worried about?”</p><p>Ecologists worry that the problem will soon worsen. Brazil is home to 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity, but the newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, has promised to develop large tracts of the country’s most ecologically sensitive areas. </p><p>Now that Mr. Fischer’s data are in the scientific literature, other researchers can more easily compare it with current data and identify trends, said Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and a co-author of the 2017 study. Dr. Desbiez also runs Brazil’s Giant Armadillo Conservation Project and a related program called Anteaters and Highways. </p><p>Ideally, he said, the data would inform government efforts to lessen the carnage. Over the years, Dr. Fischer has shared his unpublished data with state officials and urged them, to little effect, to build a system of bridges and underpasses that would let animals cross roads safely.</p><p>“Fischer’s data were very complete, and it was a very well done study, so it’s sad to see that it hasn’t been used as much as it should have,” Dr. Desbiez said. “A lot of things he suggested have not been implemented. This is not a new problem, but something he demonstrated existed a long time ago.”</p><p>Dr. Fischer said: “Ecologists are very worried. The authorities pretend to be worried.”</p><p>Brazilian officials have taken some basic measures. White metal signs, bearing silhouettes of armadillos and giant anteaters, appear on the roadside every few miles, advising motorists to “Respect Wild Life” and “Preserve the Pantanal.” But signs are easily ignored, especially in the rush of freight-hauling and daily life, ecologists say. Dr. Desbiez favors fencing that keeps animals off the pavement and guides them toward safe passages under or over the road.</p><p>Fraser Shilling, director of the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis, helped develop a real-time deer-collision map, which connects to a car or phone app that can warn drivers when to be on high alert. A recent seminar that taught other officials how to build their such maps drew representatives from 42 states, Dr. Shilling said.</p><p>Dr. González-Suárez is now studying individual species to figure out the impact on local populations. For mammals, especially those who reproduce slowly and in small numbers, the loss of a few individuals could have devastating effects, Mr. Desbiez noted.</p><p>Monitoring roadkill is important for more than accounting purposes, said Dr. Shilling. Roads are the primary way in which most people interact with wildlife, yet traffic collisions with animals are wildly underreported, he said. Measuring the scale of death is a way to remind people that our footprint is much larger than the carbon dioxide we emit or the waste we produce.</p><p>“The first part is discovering that there is a problem,” he said.</p><p>Dr. Gonzalez-Suarez said that deforestation poses a greater threat to Amazonian biodiversity than a new road does, but the two are linked, she added; new roads are built to harvest wood, and to transport grain and livestock from expanding farmlands.</p><p>“For me, the biggest concern as a conservation biologist is the loss of habitat,” she said. “We see roads as necessary, but we need to acknowledge they come with a cost. These are animals that should not be killed. They are only dying because there is a road in there and we drive on it.”</p><p>Dr. Fischer so far has avoided hitting any large animals in his travels, but a couple of birds have not been so fortune. He once struck a seriema, a terrestrial bird that resembles a roadrunner on stilts, and he collided with a parakeet while riding his motorcycle. He hopes that his historical record can help other biologists, and other Brazilians, reckon with the destructive capability of the roads they’re on.</p><p>“Brazil is a big country with a lot of problems to solve,” he said. “But we are trying to make a difference.”</p>
os Angeles revealed spellbinding visions of the heavens. </p><p>It was the first night of a monthlong journey to visit astronomy observatories in Chile, Los Angeles and Hawaii. Whether designed for professional use or for the general public, observatories nurture humanity’s explorations of the cosmos. They spark wonder and discovery, but even before I set foot inside the first one, I was seeing outer space in a spellbinding new way. </p><p>ALMA’s facility sits nearly two miles above sea level. It has the feeling of a space colony, maybe because of its cleanliness and the unforgiving terrain. Or maybe it’s because of the extremes of the environment. Based on my own brief experience, temperatures in the area range from freezing at night to boiling during the day. As tourists climbed off the bus, each was given a squirt of sunscreen, the way you’d apply hand sanitizer in a different setting.</p><p>Like the particle colliders I visited, ALMA’s research is as complex as the motivation is simple. Basically, ALMA’s quest is to search for the reasons we are human beings instead of stardust floating in the void. For example, it found a simple form of sugar in the gas surrounding a young binary star, demonstrating that some of the chemical foundations of life on Earth also exist in faraway galaxies.</p><p>The GMT is being built by a consortium of universities in the United States and other countries at a mountaintop site called Las Campanas. Owned by the Carnegie Institution, the site currently hosts eight other telescopes as well as staff housing that evokes a Swiss chalet. During the night I spent there, I met scientists working on the GMT’s instrumentation. One of them was Brian McLeod, astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. McLeod leads a team developing instrumentation to keep the GMT’s 14 primary and secondary mirrors correctly aligned. He started designing prototypes back in 2009, which means that at first light in 2024, he will have spent 15 years on this project. He ruefully noted that people change jobs more frequently than he changes projects. </p><p>When it begins operations, the GMT will welcome visitors, but how exactly is still unclear, given the site’s remoteness. Plus, nighttime observation requires dim ground conditions — a hazard to driving — while daytime is the period when all the observatory staff sleep. Still, if ALMA is any guide, visits to the GMT will be popular. So many people want to visit ALMA that the external relations staff stay on-site for weeks at a time, doing shift work.</p><p> This is despite the fact that unlike observatories for the general public, there is nothing to “see” at places like ALMA and the GMT. Today’s professional facilities are long removed from the time when you look through a viewfinder and use the telescope as an extension of your eyeball. Instead, professional observatories use computers to capture data and images and send them to researchers around the world.</p><p>Nevertheless, visiting these observatories — like my previous visits to particle colliders — boggled my mind. After all, those who work at observatories operate time machines that can detect light emanating from the birth of our universe, billions of years in the past. Even with the naked eye, the light I saw from the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud was 200,000 years old.</p><p>I said goodbye to Dr. McLeod and his team and boarded a plane back to Santiago. As I stared out the window, looking down at the vast brown carpet of the Atacama below me, I considered my situation with strange clarity: I was a collection of bound-together atoms surrounded by other atoms hammered into the shape of a metal airplane tube. And this tube was propelling me through the sky by burning the remains of long-dead plants and animals. Thoughts like this did not come naturally to me before visiting ALMA and Las Campanas.</p><p>I wondered whether the crowds at the Griffith Observatory were due mainly to its Hollywood celebrity. However, other astronomy sites were just as crowded. We experienced this the following day, when we flew to the island of Hawaii to visit Mauna Kea, one of the world's top venues for astronomy. The Maunakea Visitor Information Station, located about two-thirds up the side of the dormant volcano, is base camp for the professional observatories on the summit. It is also a center for public astronomy in Hawaii.</p><p>Four evenings a week, a mix of employees and volunteers trundle out telescopes for everyone to see. People drive up hours before, because the parking lot almost always runs out of room well before the 7 p.m. viewing start time. Hundreds of us stood patiently in long lines, clutched cups of hot chocolate, waiting for glimpses of Jupiter and the North Star. Meanwhile, people hiked up a nearby hill to catch the last rays of the setting sun. It turned chilly. People donned sweaters and hotel bath towels to ward off the cold. In the winter, snow often covers the summit while vacationers enjoy the tropical climate at ocean level. </p><p>The 14,000-foot-high summit at Mauna Kea holds 13 telescopes owned by a variety of countries and universities. Those with four-wheel drive vehicles can drive to the top and look around. We did this later in our trip. It was the middle of the day but it felt like evening. We drove through clouds, rain slicked the windshield and the temperature dropped from 80 degrees to 40. Although I could sense the lack of oxygen at the visitors’ station, the real change came at the summit where there is 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level. Walking felt labored and the world took on an acute sharpness, as if rocks and boulders and the air itself had grown an edge. We hiked to the high-altitude Lake Waiau, its brilliant blue water an intense contrast with the fiery sun.</p><p>At that moment, they seemed like a direct link to temples built on high places by our prehistoric ancestors, usually to be closer to the gods. We probably have always felt the urge to climb hills and mountains and stare at the sky. There is something about going to these high places — to ALMA, Las Campanas and the summit of Mauna Kea — that touches the core of our existence. “Starstuff pondering the stars,” in the words of Carl Sagan. </p><p>It was the beginning of June, a few days later. A warm, early summer evening. Sirens rose in the distance. The air felt lethargic, unwilling to form a breeze. Streetlights glowed orange as I stepped onto my porch and looked around. I saw the usual city haze that obscures nearly all of the night sky. But the pull of a month of stargazing lingered on, and I looked up. Eventually I perceived the faint but unmistakable trace of the Big Dipper. I don’t remember ever seeing it in the skies above Chicago, but of course it’s been there all along. </p><p>I kept looking, waiting for my eyes to become used to the dark. I thought about workers in astronomy observatories, getting ready for a night of exploration. More stars appeared. There was Jupiter like a beauty mark next to the moon. There was the North Star, twinkling just like in the lullaby. Standing in the middle of a city on our tiny planet, aware of my own fragile existence, I breathed a silent hello to the cosmos. </p><p>Here are some additional observatories in the United States that are open to the public:</p>
ing 238 trillion gallons of desalinated ocean water to do the job. Creating millions of 1-acre-square micro-reservoirs to grow enough algae to gobble up all of Earth’s climate-changing carbon dioxide. For an encore: How about spreading the water and fertilizer (the dead algae) to grow a vast new forest of oxygen-producing trees?</p><p>A Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Y Combinator, unveiled the radical desert flooding plan as one of four “moonshot” scenarios that it hopes innovators will explore as potential remedies to catastrophic global warming.</p><p>With unlimited capital and political will — both far from given — experts said the scheme would stand a chance of reducing dangerous greenhouse gas levels. But while they generally believe the climate crisis has become severe enough to push even extreme options onto the table, the experts cautioned against interventions that might create as many problems as they solve.</p><p>“We do not want to have this be purely profit driven,” said Greg Rau, a University of California, Santa Cruz climate scientist and part of the team that helped Y Combinator craft the request for proposals. “We are trying to benefit the planet, not just make money. So we need this kind of research and development first, but then oversight and governance over how any of this is deployed.”</p><p>The startup accelerator that helped finance Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit asked innovators last month to come forward with specific proposals on desert flooding and three other extreme plans for reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. The existential threat posed by climate change requires research into solutions that the investment firm itself conceded could be “risky, unproven, even unlikely to work.”</p><p>Y Combinator said it had a rush of interest in its challenge. It declined to say how many took up the desert flooding option. But Sam Altman, Y Combinator's president, predicted that in 2019 his firm will fund three companies to pursue the “Plan B” climate solutions.</p><p>A host of scientists who have studied Earth’s ecosystems, climate change and bio-engineering said further exploration might be warranted. But they were quick to cite many reasons that desert flooding is not likely to succeed.</p><p>Y Combinator called filling 1.7 million acres of arid land with 2-meter-deep pools of water “the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken.” Just to pump ocean water inland and desalinate it would require an electrical grid far greater than the one Earth now devotes to all other uses.</p><p>“It’s a desert for a reason,” said Lynn Fenstermaker, a research professor at Nevada’s Desert Research Institute. “Flooding the desert and then keeping the water there, in an already water-poor area with all the evaporation, is hard to imagine.”</p><p>Y Combinator doesn’t deny the magnitude of the challenge. “Economies of scale as well as breakthroughs in material science and construction technology will all be necessary for success,” its proposal says.</p><p>Y Combinator pegs the price tag at $50 trillion. That’s roughly half the entire globe’s economic productivity for a year. Altman said in an interview that the cost for any solution will need to drop into the billions to become more realistic. “You can do a lot of things that require spending more money than you will ever be able to get,” Altman said, “and it just doesn’t come.” Brought to a more realistic price, he believes that governments will pay.</p><p>Many species would be wiped out by massive man-made flooding of deserts. “People think there is nothing valuable in the deserts, but that is far from the truth,” said Henry Sun, a microbiologist and research professor at the Desert Research Center. “These diverse species deserve, and need, the desert to survive.” Most of the world’s countries would set a high bar, Sun said, before destroying habitat.</p><p>Interfering with nature can have unexpected consequences. Katherine Mackey, a University of California, Irvine climate scientist, noted how Australia has long tried, and failed, to combat overpopulation of native species by introducing non-native creatures. Famous case in point: toads were introduced in 1935 to tame sugar cane-eating beetles. But the toads couldn’t climb sugar cane. So the beetles thrived, alongside their new neighbors — an out-of-control toad population.</p><p>“Saying that we intervened and created a problem with global warming, so let’s further intervene, that’s not the thing to do,” Mackey said. “That’s not how you fix the problem, by replacing it with another problem.”</p><p>“I think it’s far easier to, for instance, make our houses better insulated and solar powered, than to flood deserts. Also, from a timescale perspective, how quickly will this technology be available at scale?” said Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network, an Oakland, California-based sustainability think tank. “If we want to solve climate, why not bet on the easy stuff?”</p><p>Y Combinator suggests that flooding the deserts may be less risky than another solution on its list — fertilizing the oceans with massive amounts of iron or other nutrients to spur the growth of CO2-gobbling phytoplankton. Compared to ocean phytoplankton seeding, “doing so in desert reservoirs reduces systemic risk and exposure of the marine ecosystem to our widespread meddling,” Y Combinator’s request for proposals says.</p><p>“The window for easy solutions is already closed. Doing nothing is guaranteed suicide,” the firm said. Altman, 33, added: “All of this stuff is scary. However, runaway global warming where we all die is also quite scary. ...None of this is where we would like to be. But here we are.”</p><p>Activists and scientists interviewed by NBC News said exploration of far-out solutions is warranted — as long as researchers, governments and funders don’t lose focus on other fixes.</p><p>“The concern I have is that Silicon Valley seems very excited about these moonshots, when maybe what we need is a bunch of Boeing 737s,” said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a clean energy think tank and lobbying organization. “And to do it on a 10- to 15-year development cycle, not one that takes 30 years.”</p>
ritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes. </p><p>One century after the unforgiving horrors of chemical weapons were first unleashed with abandon on the modern day battlefield, they are still shockingly used against innocent civilians in Syria and elsewhere.</p><p>As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, there is one tragic legacy of the conflict that sadly has not stopped: chemical weapons.</p><p>One century after the unforgiving horrors that chemical weapons first unleashed on the battlefield, they are still shockingly used against innocent civilians in Syria and elsewhere.</p><p>"In today's world, it is just unconscionable," says Bassam Rifai, the chairman of the Syrian American Council. He criticizes the world's acquiescence to Syrian president Bashar al Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons against his own people.</p><p>"I cannot imagine what that would do to somebody who is hiding in their basement, with their children, waiting for a chemical weapon to rain down and suffocate them," says Rifai.</p><p>"I don't understand how a human being can use a chemical weapon against anyone else."</p><p>"Countries have still been able to get away with it, even though we know what they do," notes Dr. Timothy Westcott, professor of history at Park University in Parkville, Missouri. He is also the director of the University's George S. Robb Center for the Study of The Great War.</p><p>"It's horrific," he notes. "It's horrific on children, adults, service members, the whole population. It's awful."</p><p>The Germans first used poison gas, chlorine, against the British in 1915 to try and break the long stalemate on the Western front. Even though their use constituted a war crime, first outlawed in 1899, that did not stop their use, eventually, by both sides.</p><p>"White phosphorus was a powerful one, some people would have seen kind of like a cloud that just eats the skin away, very quickly," says Dr. Westcott. "Mustard gas is probably what most people have some familiarity with. Mustard gas, inhaling that, eats your insides outward, and is very painful. A lot of these were very painful. The gas mask that was invented very quickly to deal with them was somewhat successful, but not always, particularly if there was not enough warning of a gas attack."</p><p>"Mustard gas was really an oil that would sit on things, especially your skin, it was a vesicant, it was a blistering agent," explains Johnathan Casey, the director of archives at the Edward Jones Research Center at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.</p><p>"There was a convention prohibiting these gases that had been signed by a number of the European countries but they were able to circumvent that by saying the definition of the weapons that they were using did not fit the convention."</p><p>As part of its collection, the Museum displays the rudimentary gas masks and grenades that were used during the war.</p><p>"People would start to choke on it and the body would react to get this poison or irritant out of the body," Casey says. "It was quite a shock and caused a lot of panic among the soldiers, because there was something all of a sudden there that they had not experienced before, or had any training or defense against and from that there was a natural outrage."</p><p>After the war ended, the 1919 Versailles Treaty banned the use of chemical weapons. In 1925 another agreement, the Geneva "Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare" went into effect.</p><p>Currently, 193 nations have adopted the United Nations’ "Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons" that was enacted in 1997.</p><p>"We have international agreements that these are not to be used on human beings. Unfortunately, we have not enforced those," laments Dr. Westcott.</p><p>At the United Nations, there has been harsh condemnation of the continued use of chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein deployed poison gas to massacre 5,000 Kurds in 1988 and repeated attacks have not completely stopped in Syria. Russia is also suspected of having used a deadly chemical nerve agent, Novichok, in the U.K. earlier this year.</p><p>At a U.N. Security Council meeting in September, British Ambassador Karen Pierce was blunt.</p><p>"I just find it unconscionable … that after all these years, in the hundredth anniversary year of the end of the first World War, that any government can even think of using chemical weapons against its own people or indeed against anyone else, whether they’re a small city in Britain or they are a country like Syria,” she said.</p><p>Dr. Westcott, sadly, does not foresee a day when chemical weapons will no longer be used. He is calling on governments to step up enforcement of sanctions against those who violate the international agreements.</p><p>"There are humans in charge of them. There's humans in charge of the countries, and I think unfortunately as humans, we have to do our best to control however we define that as a global society, to control those. But unfortunately humans will be humans and unfortunately, will use them as a last resort scenario."</p><p>This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.</p>