Millions of insect species will go extinct before we even discover them

December 14, 2017 by  
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Only 200 years ago did humans begin to systematically categorize the species, and within that relatively small stretch, we’ve recorded about 2 million species of plants, animals, fungi. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. By some estimates, we still have another 2 million to uncover, and by others, there are upwards of 100 million left to be classified. However, with deforestation, sprawl, and, above all, climate change putting the planet in jeopardy, scientists believe millions of species will die off before we will even encounter them. And the implications of this are far-reaching. For several decades, scientists have warned that we are headed into, or may even be experiencing, the sixth mass extinction . As The Guardian notes , there have been five other instances like this in the past, including the end-Cretaceous extinction, which led to the demise of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. However, to know for certain if we’re amidst doom and gloom, scientists need to determine the rate at which species are disappearing, and when human activity is factored in, how by how much this rate increases. Related: Plummeting insect population signals potential “ecological Armageddon” Previous studies have deemed humans to indeed be major drivers, possibly causing animal species to go extinct “up to 100 times” faster because of human activity, as one  team of American and Mexican scientists  found. However, Terry Erwin, a world-renowned tropical entomologist, says that the data that has historically been used in these studies is wholly incomplete and “biased towards a very small portion of biodiversity.” Rather, if scientists want an accurate picture of existing conditions, they need to look beyond vertebrates to invertebrates like worms, snails, spiders, octopuses, and most importantly insects, which account for about 70 percent of the Earth’s living creatures. Indeed, only one in 200 of all known species is a mammal. With that said, to determine the true rate of extinction of species on Earth, you need to determine the scale of the insect kingdom—and this is the biggest challenge. While the scope of the insect population is still being explored, The Guardian does cite a “breakthrough” that’s offered some insight into what we’re dealing with. In 1982, Erwin headed to a rainforest in Panama with the goal of determining how many species of insect lived on average across one acre of forest. He chose one tree, which he draped in sheeting and used blasts of insecticide to fog the bugs out. Over several hours, as the insects evacuated the tree onto the sheeting, Erwin was able to collect 1,200 species of bugs, of which he later determined more than 100 of which were exclusive to that one tree. From those findings, he averaged that there are about 41,000 different species per hectare of rainforest, and in turn 30 million species worldwide. The estimates, however, he now deems conservative and suspects the number could actually be between 80 and 200 million, but adds that tens of thousands of them are probably disappearing annually without us even knowing. Of no surprise, climate change is being pinned as the fundamental driver of the great insect die off. Scientists have even noticed drops in the virgin forests of Ecuador and places where insecticides aren’t being used and humans have not cut down a single tree. As the Guardian writes, based on data collected, Erwin and his collaborators have found that the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out over the last 35 years. “[If the forest goes out] everything that lives in it will be affected,” he told the site. The disappearance of insect life on Earth would surely mean the end of all life on Earth. Insects are responsible for the planet’s course of evolution from flowering plants to food chains and are key to keeping those systems functioning. As EO Wilson, a celebrated Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, tells The Guardian, humanity would last all of a few months without insects and other land-based arthropods. “After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.” Via The Guardian Images via MaxPixel and Wiki Commons

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Millions of insect species will go extinct before we even discover them

‘Geomagnetic spike’ 3,000 years ago could offer insight into Earth’s hidden interior

November 30, 2017 by  
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Earth’s magnetic field shields us from damaging radiation from the sun, but its strength and ability to protect us, is variable. Scientists uncovered details about a geomagnetic spike that happened around 1,000 BC that could alter our understanding of the magnetic field and the planet’s interior – and are exploring how a similar event might impact us if it occurred today. Scientists identified 1,000 BC’s geomagnetic spike after investigating copper from slag heaps in Jordan and Israel. They began to explore what Earth’s magnetic field might have been like way back then, and found something surprising: the copper recorded Earth’s magnetic field strength rising and then falling by more than 100 percent in 30 years. Related: Molten jet stream found hurtling through Earth’s core That research was published in 2010 , but University of Leeds lecturer Christopher Davies, in a piece for The Conversation , highlighted other discoveries since pointing to high field strengths around the same time in Turkey, China, and Georgia. Meanwhile, field strengths in Egypt, India, and Cyprus were normal – so the spike may have been only around 2,000 kilometers, or around 1,243 miles, wide. Davies wrote, “Such a rapid change over such a small area marks out the geomagnetic spike as one of the most extreme variations of Earth’s magnetic field ever recorded.” Researchers aren’t quite sure what caused the spike, but the flow of iron in the core could have played a role. That said, explaining the changes that came with the geomagnetic spike requires flows five to 10 times greater than what we observe today. “The prospect that the iron core could flow faster and change more suddenly than previously thought, together with the possibility that even more extreme spike-like events occurred in the past, is challenging some conventional views on the dynamics of Earth’s core,” Davies said. Spikes must be accompanied by weak spots, which is where geomagnetic storms tend to be prevalent. So if a spike happened today, part of the planet could see power outages or satellite disruption because of a geomagnetic storm. But Davies said it’s hard to say if another spike will happen – until recently, the Jordan spike was the only such event scientists had observed. There’s now some evidence a spike also occurred in Texas around 1,000 BC. Via The Conversation Images via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr and U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Joshua Garcia

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‘Geomagnetic spike’ 3,000 years ago could offer insight into Earth’s hidden interior

Man buries 42 school buses to build North America’s largest nuclear fallout shelter

November 29, 2017 by  
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When doomsday arrives, Bruce and Jean Beach have no intention of elbowing their neighbors for space. The retired couple, who reside on 12.5 acres in the rural town of Horning’s Mills just outside of Toronto, Canada, have built themselves a massive, 10,000-square-foot underground bunker. Beyond being the largest private nuclear fallout shelter in North America (as far as we know, at least), the post-apocalyptic den has also been craftily built using 42 decommissioned school buses entombed in concrete. Dubbed “The Ark Two,” the creation, spearheaded by 83-year-old Bruce Beach, sits 15 feet beneath the earth and can accommodate 500 people for several months. The bunker has in fact been designed to support a community, equipped with everything from months worth of food supplies to plumbing, a well, kitchen, laundry, library, dentist, nursery, daycare, ER/surgery room, and even a morgue. And why buses? He says they were cheap (just $300 a pop) and have reinforced steel roofs, which make for ideal bomb shelter molds. Related: Reclaimed Bunker Offers Doomsday Luxury Accommodations Beach built the shelter 35 years ago he says “not for survival, but rather for the reconstruction of society” after an atomic catastrophe. He told the  National Post,  “People think, ‘What a nut,’ and I know that, but I don’t mind, I understand the world looks upon me that way.” Indeed, Beach’s endeavor has not been free of conflict. Because he built the shelter without a permit, he’s been in and out of court over 30 times with the Canadian government. Officials want the bunker welded shut, citing public safety issues. However, Beach argues that “it’s the very opposite of something that is hazardous,” rather “something that is protective in hazardous situations.” To try to win public support, Beach has built relationships with the media to drum up positive publicity—and it’s worked. For the time being, officials have backed off. Beach now even holds volunteer opportunities and “work weekends” at the site. Visitors who are willing to put in a little elbow grease are guaranteed admission into the Ark—that is, “so long as they do so before the catastrophe occurs,” Beach writes on his site . “I used to always say the end of the world was going to be two years from now,” said Beach to the National Post. “But now I say it is going to be two weeks from now—and if I am wrong, I will revise my date.” Via Oddity Central All images via Bruce Beach’s website

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Man buries 42 school buses to build North America’s largest nuclear fallout shelter

Bali’s Mount Agung volcano belches ash as 100,000 people told to evacuate

November 27, 2017 by  
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Bali’s Mount Agung is belching clouds of ash – and its first major eruption since 1963 could be imminent. Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said, “Plumes of smoke are occasionally accompanied by explosive eruptions and the sound of weak blasts that can be heard up to seven miles from the peak.” They upped the alert from three to four, the highest level. As the last major eruption killed over 1,000 people, the island’s airport has been closed, and 100,000 residents have been told to evacuate immediately. The potential for a larger eruption looms at Mount Agung, according to BNPB . There was a visible glow of magma at the volcano’s peak during the night, and BNPB said residents should evacuate a danger zone with a radius of five to six miles. Spokesperson Sutopo said 40,000 people have left, but tens of thousands still need to evacuate. There have been no casualties. Bali’s airport was closed, disrupting 445 flights and 59,000 passengers, according to Reuters . The airport will be closed for 24 hours, as volcanic ash can hinder visibility, damage engines, and clog cooling or fuel systems. Related: Volcanic eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung will temporarily cool Earth’s temperature Video Gunung Agung dari daerah Muncan pagi ini, yang diabadikan masyarakat. #GunungAgung #GunungAgungSiaga pic.twitter.com/UaOlUiliLX — BNPB Indonesia (@BNPB_Indonesia) November 26, 2017 Mount Agung’s 1963 eruption destroyed multiple villages by spewing out ash , lava, and volcanic mud flows called lahar. Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center (PVMBG) said if a similar eruption happens, the volcano could hurl rocks larger than the size of a fist five miles from the summit. Volcanic gas could be spewed out up to six miles away – and all that could happen within three minutes. The northeast area of Agung’s peak has swollen, “indicating there is fairly strong pressure toward the surface,” according to PVMBG. The threat might not be as bad this time, however, as “energy at Mount Agung’s magma chamber is not as big” and so far the ash column is not as high as what it reached in 1963, according to Sutopo. Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos and Wikimedia Commons

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Bali’s Mount Agung volcano belches ash as 100,000 people told to evacuate

NASA’s new airless titanium tires are almost indestructible

November 27, 2017 by  
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Flat tires and AAA roadside assistance may soon be past memories. NASA Glenn Research engineers have just unveiled a new super-elastic tire constructed from nickel titanium, a shape memory alloy able to flex, conform, and then return to its original shape even after traversing the most punishing of terrains. While this latest invention is part of a larger, half-century-long effort to build a better tire for extra-planetary exploration, NASA engineers and materials scientists note they’ve already been testing a spinoff version for cars and trucks on Earth. The design of NASA’s new tire takes cues from those used for the 1971 Lunar Rover, which was brought to the moon by Apollo 15. Unlike the common pneumatic tire propping up our electric cars , the Lunar Rover’s wheels used flexible wire mesh. Like rubber tires, the wheels could absorb shocks, but the mesh allowed them to “float” over the soft lunar soil (rather than sink into) and it also prevented over-deflection. Related: NASA confirms asteroid came from another solar system – and it’s incredibly bizarre The Lunar Rover design was considered a major success and engineers used it as a model for future wheels that would later carry heavier loads. The tire is actually the basis for the award-winning Spring Tire , “an airless compliant tire that consists of several hundred coiled steel wires woven into a flexible mesh, giving the tires the ability to support high loads while also conforming to the terrain,” writes NASA. Notably, the headline-making Mars Curiosity Rover , which touched down in 2012, uses aluminum wheels. The choice to use aluminum wheels was based on previous missions which forwent mesh tires without much issue. However, given the size and weight of the Curiosity (roughly that of a 4×4) mixed with the rough terrain, the soft metal alloy wheels began showing loose treads and holes after just a year. Not ideal for a vehicle that cost $2.5 billion USD to build. In anticipation of the Mars 2020 launch, engineers and researchers are revisiting the Spring tire, but juicing it up for the red planet. The new tire improves on traction in soft sand, durability, and a reduced overall weight through the use of nickel titanium. The nickel titanium also gives the tires elasticity, as the metal’s shape memory alloys can rearrange at an atomic level to mold to rocks and bumps and then effortlessly snap its original shape. Indeed, tests conducted on simulated Martian terrain showed that the tires returned to form even when warped to the axle. The original Spring tire made of steel wire mesh stretched and deformed under the same conditions over time. The hope is that the new tires will allow rovers to explore greater regions of Mars or the moon for longer periods, carry heavier payloads, and eventually be used on manned exploration vehicles that would move at much higher speeds. On Earth, the tires would mean far less maintenance, no more flats, and a lot less landfill waste. Rubber tires deemed irreparable are ecologically problematic as they are durable, non-biodegradables that contain high levels of heavy metals and other pollutants. Via Gizmodo Images via NASA

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NASA’s new airless titanium tires are almost indestructible

NASA confirms asteroid came from another solar system – and it’s incredibly bizarre

November 21, 2017 by  
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The presence of an unidentified object hurtling through our solar system recently prompted a call to action from observatories throughout the world. NASA has confirmed that it’s the first object to arrive from another star – and it may be as long as a quarter mile. While the rocky asteroid, dubbed ‘Oumuamua, is definitely not piloted by aliens, it could give us clues into the formation of other solar systems. In late October, scientists thought they might have observed an object that came from outside the solar system with the aid of the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope. The International Astronomical Union reclassified the object from a comet to an interstellar asteroid, per a November 14 release . NASA’s Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a November 20 press release : “For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist.” Related: Scientists might have spotted the first object from outside our solar system Yesterday the journal Nature published a study on the find , led by scientists at the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii. NASA helped fund the work. The bizarre asteroid could have been “wandering through the Milky Way , unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system,” according to the agency. ‘Oumuamua – Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first” – has a slightly reddish hue, and is around 10 times as long as it is wide, according to NASA, which said the asteroid’s aspect ratio is bigger than any other asteroid or comet we’ve ever observed. And it varies widely in brightness: “by a factor of 10 as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours.” It’s likely dense, comprised of metals or rock, without ice or water, and could have been reddened by irradiation from cosmic rays . A few of Earth’s big ground-based telescopes are still tracking ‘Oumuamua. It’s around 124 million miles away from our planet and will probably be too faint for detection around mid-December. It will head for the constellation Pegasus after exiting our solar system. Via NASA Images via European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser and the International Astronomical Union

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Too much antimatter is hitting Earth and scientists aren’t sure why

November 21, 2017 by  
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Among the cosmic rays that normally immerse the Earth, scientists say there are too many high-energy positrons, the antimatter counterparts of electrons. Now a group of researchers from the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Poland are attempting to shed light on the mystery, and if they’re right, according to the Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN), the excess positrons might be “the first particles recorded by humans to be derived from the interaction of dark matter .” In 2008, a probe in our planet’s orbit detected more positrons reaching us than scientists would anticipate. So a large team conducted observations at the recently activated High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory in Mexico to see if pulsars were the source of these baffling extra positrons. They analyzed data from two relatively close pulsars around 800 and 900 light years away. These pulsars, Geminga and PSR B0656+14, are “among the strongest sources of cosmic rays in our region of the galaxy,” according to IFJ PAN. Related: Scientists observe light spectrum of antimatter for the first time ever The pulsars, albeit responsible for some of the positrons, contributed too small an amount to account for all the antimatter hitting Earth. Instead, the researchers’ observations bolstered a competing hypothesis IFJ PAN described as much more exotic: the “annihilation or decay or dark matter” could be the origin of the positrons. If the hypothesis is correct – and we won’t know for sure until future observations back it up or not – these perplexing positrons would be the first particles we’ve ever recorded coming from the interaction of dark matter. The journal Science recently published the research . The University of Utah led the international team. Via the Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences and ScienceAlert Images via John Pretz/IFJ PAN and Jordan A. Goodman/IFJ PAN

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Too much antimatter is hitting Earth and scientists aren’t sure why

New NASA tool shows which melting glaciers will affect coastal cities

November 17, 2017 by  
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NASA has developed a new tool  that individuals and communities can use to determine the precise impacts that sea level rise will have on individual coastal cities . This newly accessible information will enable scientists and policymakers to have a more complete understanding of the consequences of climate change in specific areas. “This study allows one person to understand which icy areas of the world will contribute most significantly to sea level change (rise or decrease) in their specific city,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with CNN . While most coastal communities around the world understand the imminent risks to their survival from sea level rise , this tool allows them to plan more precisely for the future. Current projections estimate that coastal communities will face a sea level rise of one to four feet, depending on location. Since the impact of melting sea ice will be felt differently in different places, it is important for communities to have as precise and accurate information as possible. NASA’s new tool, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, incorporates the rotation of the Earth and gravitational variables to more precisely identify how specific bodies of melting ice will impact certain communities. Related: Boston outlines its plans to adapt to rising sea levels To create this tool, researchers conducted a study in which they analyzed data for 293 coastal cities to calculate local sea level rise and the glacial source of this newly liquid water. Glaciers farthest away from a particular city tended to be the most responsible for its sea level rise, due to gravity. “Ice sheets are so heavy, that when they melt, the gravity field is modified, and the ocean is less attracted to the ice mass,” said Larour in an interview with CNN . “This means that locally, close to the ice change itself, sea level will decrease.” Larour hopes that this new tool will empower local communities to make informed decisions as they prepare for unfolding impacts of climate change . + NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Via CNN Images via NASA and Depositphotos

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New NASA tool shows which melting glaciers will affect coastal cities

New periodic table sorts 3,700 known exoplanets into 18 categories

November 17, 2017 by  
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A new Periodic Table of Exoplanets guides scientists and science fans alike through over 3,700 known exoplanets, including those that may host life . To organize the thousands of worlds identified since the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, astronomer Abel Méndez? of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico created a chart that sorts the exoplanets into 18 distinct categories. “We know of over 3,700 planets around other stars. They are very diverse,” Méndez? said in an interview with Gizmodo . “We can roughly classify them by their size and temperature. Only warm planets with the right size, similar to Earth, might provide some of the conditions for extraterrestrial life.” At the most general level, exoplanets , or planets beyond our solar system, are categorized based on distance from the star around which they orbit and their temperature. This places them in one of three zones: Hot Zone, Warm Zone, or Cold Zone. The exoplanets are also distinguished by size and composition (rocky “terran” planets vs. gas giants like Neptune and Jupiter ). As in the actual periodic table, each exoplanet category has a number assigned to it, which indicates how many of a particular kind of planet have been discovered. Related: Scientists discover new Earth-like planet only 11 light years away According to the Periodic Table of Exoplanets, there are 53 known exoplanets with the appropriate size, temperature and features such as liquid water and a stable atmosphere to potentially host life as we know it. “Unfortunately, we don’t know yet if they also have the right amount of water (e.g. oceans ) or the right atmosphere for life too,” said Méndez?. As for the disproportionate number of hot planets on the Table, Méndez? explained that this is due to the relative ease of discovery for hot planets and not necessarily because there are more of them. At the top right corner of the Table, a chart indicates the number of stellar systems and the number of known exoplanets for each system. To Méndez, the possibilities are endless. “I’m overwhelmed by the number and diversity of planets in the stars around us. So many places to explore in our own Solar System , but much more is waiting for us beyond,” Méndez? told Gizmodo . “I won’t be very surprised by another planet with life, Earth is the example that this is possible. I will be more surprised by something we haven’t seen before.” Via Gizmodo Images via  Planetary Habitability Laboratory/University of Puerto Rico at Aricebo and NASA

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New periodic table sorts 3,700 known exoplanets into 18 categories

"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

November 15, 2017 by  
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Fusion powers the sun, and if we could harness it here on Earth, we could obtain unlimited clean energy . Scientists have been working on that aim for years, and now researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory , Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and Texas A&M University just made a huge leap forwards. Helium , a byproduct of the process, typically bubbles and weakens the materials comprising a fusion reactor . But inside of nanocomposite solids, instead of the metal of regular fusion reactors, helium doesn’t form into destructive bubbles – it actually tunnels vein-like channels to potentially escape. Fusion energy isn’t easy to generate in part because of the difficulty in finding materials able to withstand the grueling conditions inside a fusion reactor’s core. These researchers may have found an answer by exploring how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids – and the results surprised them. Because while helium doesn’t endanger the environment , according to Texas A&M University, it does damage fusion reactor materials. Inside a solid material, helium bubbles out, akin to carbon dioxide in carbonated water. Related: These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030 Michael Demkowicz, Texas A&M associate professor, said, “Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid. As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.” But inside nanocomposite solids – which Texas A&M describes as “materials made of stacks of thick metal layers” – helium didn’t bubble. Instead, it actually made channels similar to human veins. Demkowicz said, “We were blown away by what we saw. As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.” And the researchers think the helium could then flow out of the material “without causing any further damage,” according to Texas A&M. The surprising discovery could have more applications than in just fusion reactors. Demkowicz said, “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids…What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal .” The journal Science Advances published the research this month. Via Texas A&M University and Futurism Images via Wikimedia Commons and Texas A&M University

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"We were blown away" – researchers eliminate obstacles to fusion energy

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