China’s Chang’e 3 lunar lander in lunar orbit, and deploying the Yutu rover.
Now lunar landing conspiracy theorists have a whole new country to target!
China has just landed the first spacecraft on the moon in 37 years. Here’s the video of the Chang’e 3 descent (touchdown happens about 6 minutes in). Check out Emily Lakdawalla’s blog at the Planetary Society for in-depth coverage and lots more images!
All ISON the Sun
Over the next month, Comet ISON will either provide skywatchers on Earth with astronomical beauty or enormous disappointment.
Thanksgiving weekend finds the visitor from Oort swinging behind the sun at more than 300,000 miles per hour (or “haulin’ ass” in scientific terms), coming only 730,000 miles from our hot ball of gas at its closest approach. To put that in perspective, Mercury orbits an average of nearly 36 million miles from the sun. Needless to say, not the friendliest place for a ball of ice and rock to be, eh?
To make things even more exciting, the sun has unleashed a coronal mass ejection (seen in the lower animation). Shouldn’t affect the comet much, though. the sun’s immense energy will put enough strain on it as it is.
Whether or not it will survive the close shave is unknown, but astronomers are watching closely (as you can see, it’s entered into view of NASA’s solar observing telescopes!). If ISON does make it through intact (perhaps lightly broiled?) December promises some superb comet watching.
You might not realize it, but antibiotic resistant infections could be the most important medical science issue you will face in your lifetime. You’d be forgiven for not knowing. You’ve grown up during the only time in human history where this wasn’t one of the likely ways you’d die or become ill.
Maryn McKenna has written a fantastic piece about the battle of man vs. microbe at Medium. Read it. She will take you from the 1938 death of a Rockaway Beach firefighter to early warnings by Alexander Fleming (yes, that guy) to the antibiotic-laced farms and feedlots that may constitute ground zero for today’s crisis. What begins as a tale of a life that we had no way of saving ends as a tale of, well, lives we might again have no way of saving.
I don’t mean to scare you, but I absolutely mean to tell you that this is some srs bsns that you need to deeply process, and I guess kind of scare you a bit too, now that I think about it.
To me, this isn’t really a tale about the need for new drugs or other treatments or even a lack of understanding of the inner workings of a particular class of microscopic lifeforms. It’s about a special kind of scientific hubris. Our hubris is not that of Icarus, in which the quest toward elevated knowledge and powerful technology has somehow doomed us to fall *splat* upon the Earth, scolded into a more humble existence by some mystical force in return for daring to control our own biology.
It’s not the ambition that is our problem. It’s our failure to respect the power of evolution. These hands, these minds, these chemical and physical tools that we wield, all are the product of unthinkable time and unfathomable tinkering by the forces of nature. We may never fully map out the journey that has molded us, or uncover the challenges that sparked us to rise above our cousins, or appreciate even a fraction of just how something as awesome as us could come to be.
That story is forever incomplete, but we know that evolution wrote every page. Today, as it has for billions of years, that powerful process plays out in untold numbers of single-celled species, of which every one traces its origin to long before we were a twinkle in Earth’s eye. Microbes are willing to undergo massive death and revolution for the sake of the survival of a few. We are not.
We’re a pretty mighty bunch, us humans. But if we don’t want to live in a future where every skinned knee could be a death sentence, where burn units and kidney dialysis and transplants are risks that medicine can’t afford to take, then we need to invent a solution that respects evolution, and involves it in the solution, rather than ignoring its power.
(image from Maryn McKenna’s story at Medium)
If you’d like to support federally-funded science research during the government shutdown, just whisper forsaken algonquinia …
Just kidding, that won’t work. But we could use some supernatural intervention, or perhaps just regular-natural intervention, because this
kid taking his ball and going home government shutdown looks like it’s not close to being over.
Among other things, this showdown is really hurting science. Even if you aren’t directly affected by the shutdown (for instance, you don’t work for the government), if you live in America then it is affecting your life. Here’s a few examples:
The strange, hooded figures currently holding Congress and the rest of our government would like you think that they are not actually there, that you’re better off not even thinking about them. But you should think about them. Think the worst things about them. And you should tell them that this just isn’t acceptable.
No word on how any of this affects the dog park.
It’s wonderful that so many research papers and journals are moving to the open-access model. People should be able to read the research that their tax dollars fund.
But as a note of caution, not all open access is created equally. John Bohannon of Science magazine sent fake papers to 304 open-access publishers. 157 of them (at least) accepted it, despite the fact that it was 100% made up.
Seeing A Hydrogen Bond
Using a mouthful of a technique called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, Chinese researchers have imaged a hydrogen bond at the highest resolution evar (except for maybe crystallography, but that’s a much more indirect way to look at things). These molecules (a tetrad of 8-hydroxyquinoline) are held in arrangement by the (white) hydrogen atoms’ atomic attraction to the partial negative charge in the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Those N’s and O’s are little electron hogs, pulling that negative cloud away from their atomic neighbor and around their nucleus instead. They don’t become full ions, like sodium or chloride, but they do become just a tiny bit negative.
It’s similar to what happens in water, where the “electron hog” oxygen becomes slightly negative, making the hydrogen slightly positive:
This results in something called “dipole interaction” and it is one of the key ingredients of living chemistry. In fact, if those 8-hydroxyquinoline molecules were in a cell instead of on a copper microscope surface, there would be little water molecules bridging those gaps, tiny hydrogen bonding intermediaries holding the whole aqueous world together.
This kind of microscopy is the same technique that recently let Berkeley scientists see a covalent bond breaking and forming in real time, and is certainly up there on the “coolest thing I’ve seen this year” list. Next stop ionic bonds?
Climate Change: There’s No Denying It’s Us
People in politics have this habit of releasing bad, uncomfortable, or otherwise challenging news on Fridays. They do this to either ruin your weekend, or in hopes that you aren’t paying attention.
That is why I didn’t post until today about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment (a long way of saying “The latest big climate report from the UN”) … because you need to really pay attention to this.
This new report is the work of hundreds of climate scientists from dozens of countries, and if you’ve ever tried to, say, order pizza for more than four people, you realize that if anything these alarming findings are on the conservative side, compromised down to just a few boring toppings. The future reality could be much worse.
The take-aways from the IPCC report are pretty simple. The climate is warming in a big way (are there really people who still deny this? I’m not sure), scientists are even more certain that humans are to blame, and it’s getting worse faster than we predicted.
I know what you’re thinking: Joe, I’m on your side, I get it, this is really bad … so what can I do when people get all climate denial-y up in my face?
Well in a world full of well-funded anti-science machinery and loads of people looking the other way because it’s uncomfortable, you have to take on an important job: Be a climate crusader in your world. Be a hero, not a Nero. Next time that one uncle sends you a BS chain email, next time a friend at school says “Yeah, but [insert economics mumbo jumbo they regurgitated from a textbook they don’t understand]”, or the next time you step up to the ballot box to decide if people like James Inhofe get to stay in office …here’s your ammo from the new climate report:
A warming climate is an unequivocal fact. The most highly trained climate scientists in the world say there is at least a 95% chance that we are to blame. Name me one thing, just one other thing (plumbing, car repair, defusing a nuclear weapon) ,that if 95% of experts said they were sure, you’d respond with “Nah, I don’t think so, but thanks anyway Person Who Knows A Lot More About This Than I Do.”
The bad stuff has already started. It’s time to change our ways and adapt to the future we’ve created before it gets any worse. Because like Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC says:
"We have five minutes before midnight."
(Artwork by J. Cayne/DeviantArt)
Launching a New Era of Public/Private Spaceflight
The swan is aloft.
The Antares rocket launched safely this morning at approximately 11 AM EST from the NASA Wallops flight facility in Virginia, ferrying the Cygnus resupply vessel to the International Space Station.
This marks a historic launch for the Antares rocket, its first with a full payload. Antares and Cygnus were designed and constructed by a private space company, Orbital Sciences, which joins SpaceX and their Dragon capsule on the list of private firms now servicing the ISS.
Welcome to the new era of public/private spaceflight.
The CDC has released a first-of-its-kind report detailing the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to our health and food supply. It is not pretty.
Within the report (you can read it here, it’s very layman-accessible) lies threat assessments for a whole range of disease-causing microbes, from famous foes like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to lesser-known dangers like Clostridium dificile and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (yes, that last one does exactly what you think it does).
Thousands of people are killed by such infections every year. They inflict billions of dollars of medical costs and lost wages. The drug-development pipeline for new antibiotics is almost empty. New tools like fecal transplants and phage therapy are hopeful but still experimental, and at least a decade away. So what do we do?
The CDC calls for safer use of antibiotics, both in hospitals and on farms, and increased screening and vaccination efforts. CDC director Tom Frieden put it plainly:
"If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era."
Unless we do something to reverse this trend, and fast, it’s high time to tuck your head between your knees. We’re either on a plane that’s going down, or we’re about to get paddled. The choice of metaphors is yours.
It’s important that people are educated on the grave nature of this threat, because it is very serious. Make sure your doctors are informed and are prescribing antibiotics correctly, hold your elected officials accountable for safer food and farm policies … and for the budding biologists out there, we’ve got plenty of new problems for you to solve. We’re gonna need your help.
I'm Joe Hanson, Ph.D. biologist and host/writer of PBS Digital Studios' It's Okay To Be Smart.
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