Mars 'terror,' future Moon missions and an epic journey to the Sun: 2018’s year in space

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NASA has released several stunning new images of Mars captured by the InSight lander's robotic arm as it snapped a photos of its new workspace.

2018 has been a busy year for space exploration. Here are some of the highlights:

Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

The molecules, which were found in rocks from an ancient lake bed, provide fresh insight into the Red Planet, according to scientists. The rocks are billions of years old, NASA said.

While NASA went to great lengths to explain that it has not discovered life on Mars, the organic molecules could provide vital clues.

“Organic compounds are fundamental to our search for life,” said Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md.

Described as the most technologically advanced rover ever built, Curiosity launched on Nov. 26, 2011. The rover landed on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, with the goal of determining whether Mars was ever able to support microbial life.

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA.

OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

The spacecraft was about 30 miles above Earth’s surface when the crew was forced to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere. After the successful deployment of its parachute, the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.

The Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station, but Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the orbiting space lab. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

The capsule leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station's commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

The Russian space chief has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

In addition to Lockheed, which built the Mars InSight lander, NASA's commercial partners include Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space System, Draper, Firefly, Intuitive Machines, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

The contracts could be worth as much as $2.6 billion over a span of 10 years and flights could start as soon as next year, officials said. The original list included more than 30 companies vying for the bids, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

President Donald Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

NASA’s goal is also to send to manned missions into space from U.S. soil during the coming years. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS.

To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

Parker will face “brutal” heat and radiation during the epic journey that will take it to within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.

Harnessing Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer and closer to the Sun. On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will be traveling at approximately 430,000 mph, setting a new speed record for a manmade object.

Scientists expect to shed new light on the Sun’s potential to disrupt satellites and spacecraft, as well as electronics and communications on Earth.

The planets are orbiting small, cool stars near our solar system, known as “Red Dwarfs.”

One of the brightest Red Dwarfs, K2-155, has three “super-Earths,” one of which, K2-155d, could be within the star’s habitable zone. K2-155d, which has a radius 1.6 times that of Earth, may harbor liquid water, according to three-dimensional global climate simulations.

K2-155 is about 200 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma identified the extragalactic planets about 3.8 billion light-years away. The space observatory helped scientists find about 2,000 objects with comparable mass to the Moon and Jupiter.

The Oklahoma University team used a technique called microlensing, which identifies the gravitational signature of planets orbiting extremely distant stars.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2018 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. All market data delayed 20 minutes.


December 15, 2018

Sources: Fox

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    1 February 09, 2019
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    1 February 09, 2019
  • Liberal Democrats Formally Call for a ‘Green New Deal,’ Giving Substance to a Rallying Cry

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    1 February 07, 2019
  • 'Trump effect' on climate may be dimming, new polls shows

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    increasing number of them are likely to believe that global warming is happening and that the changes are occurring because of human activity, according to a poll released Tuesday.</p><p>That’s a reversal of findings from a year ago, when President Donald Trump’s skepticism about climate change appeared to be pushing more Republicans toward a lack of conviction on the issue, according to the survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.</p><p>The decline of the so-called Trump Effect, while incremental, has been enough to help create new highs in the percentage of Americans who accept the reality of global warming and humanity’s role in causing it, the pollsters found.</p><p>Seventy four percent of Americans now say that global warming is happening and 62 percent say that human activities are the cause, according to the poll conducted in November and December and involving 1,114 adults nationwide.</p><p>Be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!</p><p>Among liberal and moderate Republicans, 70 percent said they believed that global warming was occurring, a seven percentage point increase from 2017. While only 42 percent of conservative Republicans held that view, that was still a five percentage point increase from the year prior.</p><p>After Trump's inauguration in 2017, the number of Republicans saying "I don't know" to the existence of climate change and humanity's role in it increased. Previous research has shown that "cues" from political leaders can cause such changes in public opinion, the pollsters said.</p><p>"The declines in Republican acceptance of human-caused global warming in 2017 may thus have been driven by a 'Trump Effect,'" Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program, told NBC News.</p><p>In an emailed statement explaining the poll, he added that "the statements and actions — an announcement that he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his efforts to reverse the Clean Power Plan, and prior tweets suggesting that climate change is a hoax — likely had an effect on his fellow Republicans."</p><p>As of the most recent survey, the percentage of Republicans who said they believe global warming is happening had increased from 47 percent to 52 percent, from a year prior. Similarly, the percentage of Republicans who say they believe that the changes in the climate are related to human activities increased from 29 percent in late 2017 to 36 percent in late 2018.</p><p>"These results suggest that the 'Trump Effect' has worn off and that Republicans ... are re-engaging the issue," Leiserowitz said, "having returned to near historic highs, though still at much lower levels than Democrats or Independents."</p><p>Leiserowitz said that “at least part of the shift seems to be driven by a dawning awareness that climate impacts are here and now.”</p><p>Some 44 percent ranked climate change as a top priority, though 56 percent said that environmental issues should be a primary focus for Trump and Congress.</p><p>The Pew survey, taken among 1,505 adults Jan. 9-14, found that views remain sharply divided along party lines. Democrats are 43 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say protecting the environment should be a top priority this year (74 percent vs. 31 percent) and 46 points more likely to cite global climate change as a top priority (67 percent compared to 21 percent.)</p><p>In a survey from November, Pew found that voters overall believe Democrats are better positioned to tackle those issues. The survey found that 55 percent of the public said Democrats in Congress would have a better approach to the environment while only 19 percent said Trump would have the better approach on the environment.</p><p>James Rainey is a reporter for NBC News, based in Los Angeles.</p>

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    1 February 05, 2019
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    of toothpaste on their children’s brushes, health officials warned in a study released on Friday.</p><p>Parents of children in that age bracket should squeeze no more than a pea-size amount of toothpaste on their brush, the C.D.C. and American Dental Association recommend.</p><p>Children under 3 should be using even less toothpaste, according to the guidelines. For those children, parents should be squeezing only a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste — roughly the size of a grain of rice. Young children are more susceptible to fluorosis and less capable of spitting out the toothpaste in the sink, making it more likely they will ingest it, the C.D.C. said.</p><p>Fluorosis only affects children because the damage occurs when teeth are developing under the gums. It does not affect overall dental health, but it can lead to white lines or streaks on the teeth, the American Dental Association said.</p><p>The study results were a “red flag” that the public does not fully understand the guidelines for toothpaste application, Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, an association spokesman and a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Me., said on Saturday.</p><p>One problem, Dr. Shenkin said, is that parents tend to receive contradictory advice on how much toothpaste children should be using, as well as whether the youngest children should be using fluoride toothpaste at all.</p><p>Parents get mixed messages from dentists, pediatricians and the internet, he said.</p><p>For children under 2, C.D.C. guidelines diverge from two dental associations.</p><p>“What’s really happening is that parents are following the rules of brushing twice a day, but they might not always be there,” Dr. D’Alesio said.</p><p>She advised that the earliest that parents should leave their child alone when they brush their teeth is 6, although they might consider sticking around until their child is 8.</p><p>The C.D.C. study, which was based on more than 5,000 children from ages 3 to 15, also found that nearly 80 percent of children included in the analysis started brushing later than recommended. The analysis was based on data from 2013 to 2016.</p><p>According to professional guidelines, parents should start brushing their children’s teeth when the first tooth erupts, which can be as early as six months. But just over 20 percent of parents or caregivers in the study reported that their child started brushing before age 1.</p><p>The C.D.C. offered a few caveats to the results: Parents were self-reporting information, leaving room for more inaccuracy than if the researchers were observing the brushing directly. Additionally, participants were not asked to specify whether the toothpaste had fluoride. (The American Dental Association only endorses toothpastes with fluoride.)</p><p>Dr. Shenkin said the message that parents should take away is not that they should stop using fluoride toothpaste. Instead, he advised, “Use it, but use it in the proper quantity so your children don’t swallow too much.”</p>

    1 February 03, 2019
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    1 February 03, 2019
  • Frostbite and Hypothermia: Tips to Stay Safe in Extreme Cold Weather

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    d can be extremely dangerous, with the risk of hypothermia and frostbite increasing every minute.</p><p>Of course, many of us have no choice: We have to go to work, take care of others, clear snow, get supplies. If you’ll be outside for any amount of time, you should dress warmly and cover any exposed skin.</p><p>In such extreme cold, exposed skin can develop frostbite in as little as five minutes, said George T. Chiampas, an emergency medicine doctor and professor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.</p><p>The body’s first reaction to extreme cold is to restrict blood and oxygen flow from its extremities, in order to preserve major organs, Dr. Chiampas said. The first signs of frostbite including tingling or pain in the affected areas. If you think you have frostbite, you should immediately go inside and check yourself for any discoloration or other clear sign of frostbite. Fingers, toes and the face are most often affected.</p><p>People with frostbite sometimes don’t realize what is happening, because their fingers or other parts of their bodies go numb as it sets in. And if they are also experiencing hypothermia, which can be deadly, their judgment could be seriously impaired. (More on that below.)</p><p>Signs of frostbite include skin that has blistered or become discolored, or that feels unusually firm or waxy. It can result in permanent damage and amputation, and can be more dangerous the longer it goes without treatment.</p><p>Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Chiampas said his department had treated 15 patients with weather-related complaints in the previous 36 hours, including one who had a finger amputated because of frostbite — a much higher number than is typical for this time of year. The hospital, which is operating a warming center, has prepared for a spike in such patients over the next two days.</p><p>“These are absolutely dangerous environments,” Dr. Chiampas said. “If people listen to this really, really important message, hopefully we can avoid some really unfortunate and sad outcomes.”</p><p>If you think you have frostbite, avoid using a heating pad or hot water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns: If the affected area is numb, you could get burned. Until you can see a doctor, immerse the area in warm water, change into dry warm clothes, and use blankets and body heat, such as tucking fingers into armpits.</p><p>The C.D.C. warns against walking on frostbitten feet or toes or massaging affected areas, which can increase damage.</p><p>When the body is exposed to the cold for prolonged periods, it begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it, according to the C.D.C. Wet conditions are especially dangerous, even in relatively warmer temperatures. A low body temperature renders major organs incapable of functioning properly, and can be deadly. Seniors and others with poor circulation are particularly vulnerable.</p><p>The agency advises taking the person’s temperature if you notice any of those symptoms. A temperature below 95 indicates an emergency, requiring immediate medical attention.</p><p>In cases of severe hypothermia, the victim may be unconscious — and may seem not even to have a pulse, or to be breathing. But some hypothermia victims who appear dead can be resuscitated, the C.D.C. says. Call 911 and administer CPR if possible.</p><p>Extreme cold can play a role in many other health issues — the most obvious, of course, being the danger of falls, car accidents and other ice-related injuries. The unanimous advice: Exercise extreme caution.</p><p>Most manufacturers recommend using cellphones in temperatures ranging from 32 to 95. Otherwise, the battery’s ability to power the device is compromised, and it may shut down. Keeping the phone close to your body, say in a pants pocket, should keep it warm if you’re outside. And it should work fine once it’s back in normal temperatures.</p>

    1 January 30, 2019
  • These Patients Had Sickle-Cell Disease. Experimental Therapies May Have Cured Them.

    These Patients Had Sickle-Cell Disease. Experimental Therapies May Have Cured Them.

    cure of a common genetic disease” and could free tens of thousands of Americans from agonizing pain.</p><p>With advances in gene therapy, that is quickly changing — so much so that scientists have begun to talk of a cure. </p><p>In a half-dozen clinical trials planned or underway, researchers are testing strategies for correcting the problem at the genetic level. Already a handful of the enrolled patients, who have endured an illness that causes excruciating bouts of pain, strokes and early death, no longer show signs of the disease.</p><p>Among them is Brandon Williams, 21, who lives with his mother in Chicago. Because of his sickle-cell disease, he had suffered four strokes by age 18. The damage makes it hard for him to speak. His older sister died of the disease.</p><p>Following an experimental gene therapy, his symptoms have vanished. Life has taken a sharp turn for the better: no more transfusions, no more pain, no more fear.</p><p>“He said, ‘Mom, I think I want to get me a job,’” said his mother, Leuteresa Roberts.</p><p>It is still early in the course of these experimental treatments, and it is likely to be at least three years before one is approved. Although researchers hope the effects will last, they cannot be certain.</p><p>“We are in uncharted territory,” said Dr. David A. Williams, chief scientific officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. </p><p>At the moment, the only remedy for sickle-cell disease is a dangerous and expensive bone marrow transplant, an option rarely used. An effective gene therapy would not be simple or inexpensive, but it could change the lives of tens of thousands of people.</p><p>“This would be the first genetic cure of a common genetic disease,” said Dr. Edward Benz, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. </p><p>It also would mark a turning point for a large community of underserved patients. Most of them have African ancestry, but Hispanics and those with southern European, Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds are also affected. </p><p>Experts have long maintained that advances in treatment have been limited partly because sickle-cell disease is concentrated in less affluent minority communities. </p><p>“Having tried for a number of years to raise philanthropic money, I can tell you it’s really hard,” said Dr. Williams.</p><p>In sickle-cell disease, blood cells stuffed with hemoglobin are distorted into sickle shapes. The misshapen cells get stuck in blood vessels, causing strokes, organ damage and episodes of agonizing pain — called crises — as muscles are starved of oxygen. Children usually return to normal between crises, but teenagers and adults may suffer chronic pain. </p><p>The misshapen cells don’t survive long in the blood — 10 to 20 days, compared to the usual 120 days. Patients may be severely anemic and prone to infections.</p><p>Daily life can be a challenge. Many adults with sickle-cell disease have no health insurance, especially in states that did not expand Medicaid, noted Dr. John Tisdale, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health. </p><p>Employment can be difficult because the disease is debilitating. Yet many who apply for Social Security disability are denied, Dr. Tisdale said. They end up at emergency rooms when they are in crisis.</p><p>Mrs. Roberts’ son, Mr. Williams, was devastated and terrified. He told her he had suffered too much, and his big sister’s death brought home to him the fact that his life, too, could end at any moment. He wanted to stop the monthly blood transfusions that were easing his symptoms. He wanted to go ahead and die.</p><p>Then Dr. Alexis Thompson, a sickle-cell specialist at Northwestern University, told Mr. Williams that he could join a new study of gene therapy that might help. There were no guarantees, and there was a chance Mr. Williams could die from the treatment.</p><p>Mr. Williams was enthusiastic, but his mother was filled with trepidation. In the end, she decided “we’ve got to try something,” she recalled.</p><p>“I was so overwhelmed,” Mrs. Roberts recalled. “I cried tears of joy.” </p><p>In the 1980s, when researchers first began thinking of gene therapy to correct genetic disorders, sickle-cell disease was at the top of the list.</p><p>In theory, it seemed straightforward — just one tiny change in a single gene led to a lifetime of misery and an early death. </p><p>Every patient had exactly the same genetic mutation. To cure the disease, all scientists needed to do was to fix this one genetic error. </p><p>But it was not so easy. Among the many problems that plagued gene therapy research, there were ones specific to sickle-cell disease.</p><p>That left researchers with a problem. “How do you manipulate a gene, or put a gene in, so it is expressed only in those cells and at high levels?” Dr. Benz asked.</p><p>Scientists are testing three methods for modifying stem cells. In the first, a form of gene therapy, a virus is used to insert a viable copy of the hemoglobin gene into the stem cells. </p><p>Until recently, the viruses had a limited capacity to carry genes, and the hemoglobin gene simply would not fit. Only recently have scientists found viruses that can do the job. </p><p>The second approach starts with the fact that the human genome can make two kinds of hemoglobin: fetal hemoglobin, active in the fetus but shut off after birth, and adult hemoglobin. </p><p>“We’ve known for decades that hemoglobin is different in a fetus — it doesn’t sickle, and it works as well as adult hemoglobin,” said Dr. Stuart Orkin, a researcher at Harvard University who found the hemoglobin switch. </p><p>With recent advances, all three approaches now seem feasible. Farthest along is a new iteration of gene therapy to produce fetal hemoglobin, currently in trials conducted by Bluebird Bio, a biotech company in Cambridge, Mass.</p><p>Bluebird is now planning a larger study, in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, that will enroll 41 patients, all of whom will get gene therapy. The company hopes to finish the study and get approval in 2022.</p><p>Following recent scientific advances, the N.I.H. has launched an initiative called Cure Sickle Cell to speed progress. </p><p>It will bring “significant new money,” said Dr. Keith Hoots, a division director at the institutes, although the total has not yet been determined. </p><p>For many of the pioneering patients in these trials, the results have been remarkable.</p><p>Carmen Duncan, 20, of Charleston, S.C., had her spleen removed when she was 2, a result of complications from sickle-cell disease. She spent much of her childhood in and out of hospitals. </p><p>“Sometimes I would stay two weeks,” she said. Her arms and legs would ache from blocked blood vessels. “A simple touch really hurt.”</p><p>Monthly blood transfusions helped, she said, but they were onerous. Then she entered Bluebird’s gene therapy trial. </p><p>Manny Hernandez, 20, was the first patient in a trial at Boston Children’s Hospital in which researchers are attempting to restart production of fetal hemoglobin. It worked: Doctors say he no longer has the disease.</p><p>And Mr. Williams? He wound up in the gene therapy trial run by Bluebird. </p><p>His mother will never forget the call she got from Dr. Thompson, saying her son was producing enough normal blood cells. For him, too, sickle-cell disease has disappeared.</p><p>“I was like, yes, yes, thank you Lord,” Mrs. Roberts said.</p>

    1 January 27, 2019