May 26, 2018 - June 1, 2018
Emissions of banned ozone-eating
chemical somehow on the rise
Loa Observatory scientist Aidan Colton fills flasks and maintains
instruments at the MLO in Hawaii. A study released this month suggests
that emissions of a banned chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) are coming from
somewhere around China, Mongolia and the Koreas. (James Elkins/NOAA via
Washington (AP) — Something
strange is happening with a now-banned chemical that eats away at
Earth’s protective ozone layer: Scientists say there’s more of it — not
less — going into the atmosphere and they don’t know where it is coming
When a hole in the ozone formed
over Antarctica, countries around the world in 1987 agreed to phase out
several types of ozone-depleting chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs). Production was banned, emissions fell and the hole slowly
But starting in 2013, emissions of
the second most common kind started rising, according to a study in this
month’s journal Nature. The chemical, called CFC11, was used for
making foam, degreasing stains and for refrigeration.
“It’s the most surprising and
unexpected observation I’ve made in my 27 years” of measurements, said
study lead author Stephen Montzka, a research chemist at the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Emissions today are about the same
as they were nearly 20 years ago,” he said.
Countries have reported close to
zero production of the chemical since 2006 but the study found about
14,300 tons (13,000 metric tons) a year has been released since 2013.
Some seeps out of foam and buildings and machines, but scientists say
what they’re seeing is much more than that.
Measurements from a dozen monitors
around the world suggest the emissions are coming from somewhere around
China, Mongolia and the Koreas, according to the study. The chemical can
be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be
captured and recycled.
Either someone’s making the banned
compound or it’s sloppy byproducts that haven’t been reported as
required, Montzka said.
An outside expert, Ross Salawitch,
an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland, is less
diplomatic. He calls it “rogue production,” adding that if it continues
“the recovery of the ozone layer would be threatened.”
High in the atmosphere, ozone
shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage
and other problems.
Nature removes 2 percent of the
CFC11 out of the air each year, so concentrations of the chemical in the
atmosphere are still falling, but at a slower rate because of the new
emissions, Montzka said. The chemical stays in the air for about 50
Over 10,000 endangered tortoises are rescued
photo taken Tuesday, April, 24, a critically endangered radiated
tortoise feeds at a wildlife facility run by international
conservationists in Madagascar. (Susie Bartlett/The Wildlife
Conservation Society via AP)
Johannesburg (AP) —
International conservationists in Madagascar have been treating more
than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises that were seized
from traffickers who crammed the creatures into a home with no access to
food or water.
The Turtle Survival Alliance and
other groups are caring for the tortoises at a wildlife facility in the
Ifaty region of the Indian Ocean nation, although hundreds have died
from illness and dehydration.
The alliance says police found the
radiated tortoises at a home in Toliara on April 10. The group said the
amphibians, which are native to southern Madagascar, likely had been
collected for the illegal pet trade, with Asia possibly the intended
Radiated tortoises are coveted for
the star pattern on their shells.
Most of the surviving tortoises
appear “fairly healthy,” said Susie Bartlett, a veterinarian with the
Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo. In an email,
Bartlett described the challenges of working with the huge number of
Each morning, “ill tortoises that
are under veterinary care are collected from their enclosures and
brought to the clinic in large tubs and pans,” Bartlett wrote. “Sick
animals are given subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate them and antibiotics
if needed, along with vitamin supplementation. This is easily done with
the sick tortoises that do not have much strength to retract their heads
However, as tortoises get stronger
it gets more difficult to extend a leg out of a shell to find a fold of
skin for an injection, according to Bartlett. Some of the rescued
animals have eye and mouth infections and are given pain medicine.
Conservationists from zoos in the
United States — the Bronx Zoo, Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, Hogle Zoo in
Utah, Dallas Zoo and Oklahoma City Zoo — are participating in the
rescue. About 1,500 radiated tortoises deemed to be healthy have been
moved to other facilities in Madagascar.
Radiated tortoises used to be found
along roadways in the dry, spiny forests of south and southwest
Madagascar. Poaching and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll, according
to a “red list” of threatened species compiled by the International
Union for Conservation of Nature. The list says Asian smugglers are
known to collect the tortoises and that tortoise meat is popular among
some people in Madagascar.
May 19, 2018 - May 25, 2018
Scientists say Chinese-backed dam risks orangutan habitat
Nov. 3, 2017 file photo, Director General of Conservation of Natural
Resources and Ecosystem at Indonesian Forestry Ministry Wiratno
(center), inspects a screen displaying the map of Batang Toru Ecosystem
in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
Indonesia (AP) — Scientists are calling for
cancellation of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam in Indonesia that
threatens the habitat of a newly discovered orangutan species numbering
only 800 animals.
In the journal
Current Biology, the experts say the 510-megawatt dam in Sumatra
will flood or otherwise alter part of the habitat and likely make it
impossible to take a crucial step toward ensuring the species survives —
reconnecting fragmented forests the primates are spread across.
Sinohydro is building the dam, which is reportedly financed by Chinese
loans. Critics of the project say it’s part of China’s “Belt and Road”
plans to carpet Asia with Chinese-financed infrastructure and extend its
economic and political influence.
announced the discovery of the third orangutan species, Pongo
tapanuliensis, in November. The population, with frizzier hair and
distinctively long calls for the males, was previously believed to be
Sumatran orangutans. Without special protection, it’s in danger of
rapid extinction, scientists say.
“It’s appalling to
think that within our lifetimes, a new great ape species could be both
discovered and driven to extinction,” said Serge Wich, a professor at
Liverpool John Moores University, who was involved in identifying the
new orangutan species.
The scientists also
urged that the remaining habitat in the Batang Toru forest of northern
Sumatra be given strict conservation protection and that forest
corridors be created to link separated populations. One way to do that,
they said, is to close a section of the road between two main forest
The Batang Toru
orangutan was the first great ape species to be proposed by scientists
in nearly 90 years. Previously, science has recognized six great ape
species: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas,
chimpanzees and bonobos.
Union for Conservation of Nature classified Bornean orangutans as
critically endangered in 2016 due to a precipitous population decline
caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood
plantations. Sumatran orangutans have been classified as critically
endangered since 2008.
writing in Current Biology said orangutan subpopulations need to number
at least 200 to have a chance of surviving a century and more than 500
for longer-term survival.
NASA launches InSight spacecraft to Mars to dig down deep
illustration shows the InSight lander drilling into Mars.
(NASA via AP)
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) —
A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor is rocketing
toward Mars, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious
The NASA spacecraft, launched on
May 5, will take more than six months to get to Mars and start its
unprecedented geologic excavations, traveling 300 million miles (485
million kilometers) to get there.
InSight will dig deeper into Mars
than ever before — nearly 16 feet, or 5 meters — to take the planet’s
temperature. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of
marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian
“That’s the real payoff of this
whole mission and that’s still lying ahead of us,” said the mission’s
chief scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Launched at the same time a pair of
mini test satellites, or CubeSats, are trailing InSight to Mars to serve
as a potential communication link. The twin briefcase-sized spacecraft
are nicknamed WALL-E and EVE from the 2008 animated movie.
NASA hasn’t put a spacecraft down
on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The U.S., in fact, is the
only country to successfully land and operate a spacecraft at Mars.
It’s tough, complicated stuff. Only about 40 percent of all missions to
Mars from all countries — orbiters and landers alike — have proven
successful over the decades.
If all goes well, the three-legged
InSight will descend by parachute and engine firings onto a flat
equatorial region of Mars — believed to be free of big, potentially
dangerous rocks — on Nov. 26. Once down, it will stay put, using a
mechanical arm to place the science instruments on the surface.
Banerdt said Mars is ideal for
learning how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion
years ago. Unlike our active Earth, Mars hasn’t been transformed by
plate tectonics and other processes, he noted. InSight might also help
explain why some planets — like ours — went on to develop life, while
others did not.
Over the course of two Earth years
— or one Martian year — NASA expects InSight’s three main experiments to
provide a true 3-D image of the interior of Mars. Scientists know Mars
has an iron core and a crust, but beyond that, the inside is “basically,
completely unknown,” said Banerdt.
The lander is equipped with a
seismometer for measuring marsquakes, a self-hammering probe for
burrowing beneath the surface, and a radio system for tracking the
spacecraft’s position and planet’s wobbly rotation, thereby revealing
the size and composition of Mars’ core.
“InSight, for seismologists, will
really be a piece of history, a new page of history,” said the Paris
Institute of Earth Physics’ Philippe Lognonne, lead scientist of the
Problems with the French-supplied
seismometer kept InSight from launching two years ago.
May 12, 2018 - May 18, 2018
European Space Agency releases 1st image from Mars orbiter
European Space Agency has released its first image taken by a probe
orbiting Mars, showing the ice-covered edge of a vast crater.
(ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS via AP)
Berlin (AP) - The European
Space Agency has released the first image taken by its Trace Gas Orbiter
showing the ice-covered edge of a vast Martian crater.
Scientists combined three pictures of the Korolev
Crater taken from an altitude of 400 kilometers (249 miles) on April 15.
Lead researcher Nicolas Thomas said Thursday the
colors in the resulting image were also adjusted to best resemble those
visible to the human eye.
The camera used is one of four instruments on board
the orbiter, which is designed to look for gases such as methane that
could indicate biological or geological activity on Mars. The orbiter
begins its mission to look for the trace gases this month.
Thomas said the camera will allow scientists to
inspect areas where gases are found, monitor Mars for signs of change
and help scout the planet for future landing sites.
Europe plans to land its own rover on Mars in 2021.
A European test lander crashed on the surface of Mars in 2016.
EU moves to full ban on
pesticides that harm bees
European Union has made a key breakthrough to completely ban pesticides
that harm bees and their crop pollination. The 28 member states got a
large majority backing the ban on the three prevalent neonicotinoid
pesticides which will take effect at the end of the year. (AP Photo/Andy
Brussels (AP) - The European
Union made a key breakthrough on Friday to completely ban pesticides
that harm bees and their crop pollination.
The 28 member states got a large
majority, representing some three-quarters of its population, backing
the ban on the three prevalent neonicotinoid pesticides which will take
effect at the end of the year. The decision builds on a limited ban
which has been in effect since 2013.
Antonia Staats of the Avaaz
campaign group called it a “beacon of hope for bees. Finally our
governments are listening.”
Over the past several years,
there’s been an alarming drop in bee populations and there were fears it
would start to seriously affect crop production since bees are necessary
for the spread of pollen and reproduction.
The EU says it used a scientific
review to identify pesticides as one of the factors causing the decline
along with disease and climate change among others.
Swiss agribusiness company Syngenta
called the decision “disappointing” and added that “evidence clearly
shows that neonicotinoids pose a minimum threat to bee health compared
to a lack of food, diseases and cold weather.”
“There is abundant evidence from
lab and field studies that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees, and a
growing body of evidence linking them to declines of butterflies,
aquatic insects and insect-eating birds,” said Dave Goulson, biology
professor at the University of Sussex. “The EU decision is a logical
one,” he said.
The European Commission is set to
adopt the decision in the next few weeks and the ban will kick in by the
end of the year.
The three pesticides will only be
allowed for use in greenhouses where there is no contact with bees.
EU nations, environment groups and
industry have been bickering over the issue for almost a decade now.
Scientists release most detailed star chart of the Milky Way
This image provided by the European Space
Agency ESA, is Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way Galaxy and
neighboring galaxies, based on measurements of nearly 1.7 billion stars.
(ESA via AP)
The European Space Agency released the most accurate census yet of stars
in the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies Wednesday, providing
astronomers with a wealth of new data for further research.
measurements about the distance, motion, brightness and color of almost
1.7 billion stars were collected by the space agency’s Gaia probe
between July 2014 and May 2016.
scientists and software engineers took years to process the data and
create a catalog of stars from which they were able to generate maps,
including of the asteroids in our solar system and even a
three-dimensional chart of some nearby stars.
Vallenari, one of the lead scientists involved in the project, said
astronomers have gained new insights into the life cycle of stars and
how the Milky Way was formed.
supported by the observations is that our galaxy was struck by material
from another, resulting in ‘ripples’ of stars moving in an unexpected
way compared with the otherwise uniform motion of stars in the Milky
Way, said Vallenari.
professional and amateur astronomers alike will be able to access the
data and hunt for new discoveries. It’s the second release following the
publication two years ago of a smaller batch of measurements covering 2
releases are planned in the coming years.
May 5, 2018 - May 11, 2018
Archaeologists find silver treasure
on German Baltic island
April 13, 2018 photo shows medieval Saxonian, Ottoman, Danish and
Byzantine coins after a medieval silver treasure had been found near
Schaprode on the northern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea.
(Stefan Sauer/dpa via AP)
Berlin (AP) - Hundreds of
1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls and bracelets linked to the
era of Danish King Harald Gormsson have been found on the eastern German
island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea.
A single silver coin was first
found in January by two amateur archaeologists, one of them a
13-year-old boy, in a field near the village of Schaprode. The state
archaeology office then became involved and the entire treasure was
uncovered by experts over the weekend, the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania
state archaeology office said.
April 13, 2018 photo medieval jewelry and coins are displayed on a table
after a medieval silver treasure had been found near Schaprode on the
northern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. (Stefan Sauer/dpa
“It’s the biggest trove of such
coins in the southeastern Baltic region,” the statement said.
The office said the two amateur
archeologists were asked to keep quiet about their discovery to give
professionals time to plan the dig and were then invited to participate
in the recovery.
“This was the (biggest) discovery
of my life,” hobby archaeologist Rene Schoen told the German news agency
Schoen said he and 13-year-old Luca
Malaschnitschenko were using metal detectors on the field near
Schaprode when Luca found a little piece that he initially thought was
only aluminum garbage. But when they cleaned it, they understood it was
Archaeologists said about 100 of
the silver coins are probably from the reign of Harald Gormsson, better
known as “Harald Bluetooth,” who lived in the 10th century and
introduced Christianity to Denmark.
He was one of the last Viking kings
of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of
His nickname came from the fact he
had a dead tooth that looked bluish, but it’s now best known for the
wireless Bluetooth technology invented by Swedish telecom company
Ericsson. The company named the technology, developed to wirelessly
unite computers with cellular devices, after him for his ability to
unite ancient Scandinavia.
The technology logo carries the
runic letters for his initials HB.
April 28, 2018 - May 4, 2018
NASA spacecraft aims to put mystery
planets on galactic map
made available by NASA shows an illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet
Survey Satellite (TESS). The spacecraft will prowl for planets around the
closest, brightest stars. These newfound worlds eventually will become prime
targets for future telescopes looking to tease out any signs of life. (NASA
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) -
Calling all planets that orbit around bright, nearby stars: NASA’s new Tess
spacecraft is looking to do a head count.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey
Satellite - Tess for short - is embarking on a two-year quest to find and
identify mystery worlds thought to be lurking in our cosmic backyard. The
spacecraft aims to add thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar
system, to the galactic map for future study.
Life might be out there, whether
microbial or more advanced, and scientists say Tess and later missions will
help answer the age-old question of whether we’re alone.
“It is very exciting. ... By human
nature, we look for exploration and adventure, and this is an opportunity to
see what’s next,” NASA’s Sandra Connelly, a science program director, said
on the eve of launch.
Tess is flying on a SpaceX Falcon 9
rocket, and blasted off Monday, April 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Here’s a peek at little Tess and its
creators’ big ambitions.
Spacecraft: At 5 feet (1.5
meters), Tess is shorter than most adults and downright puny compared with
most other spacecraft. The observatory is 4 feet across (1.2 meters), not
counting the solar wings, which are folded for launch, and weighs just 800
pounds (362 kilograms). NASA says it’s somewhere between the size of a
refrigerator and a stacked washer and dryer. Four wide-view cameras are
surrounded by a sun shade, to keep stray light out as they monitor any dips
in brightness from target stars. Repeated dips would indicate a planet
passing in front of its star.
Orbit: Tess will aim for a
unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end
and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end. NASA insists
there’s no chance of Tess hitting any other satellites or running into the
moon, which should never be anywhere close. The lunar gravity will keep the
spacecraft stabilized in this orbit for decades to come, with no fuel
needed. It will take Tess two weeks to circle Earth.
Job: Tess will scan almost the
entire sky during its $337 million mission, staring at hundreds of
thousands, even millions of small, faint red dwarf stars. Scientists expect
to discover thousands of planets that, over time, will undergo further
scrutiny by powerful telescopes in space and on Earth. That’s why NASA,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other collaborators are targeting
stars within hundreds or, at most, thousands of light-years: It will make
the detailed searches yet to come that much easier. NASA’s planet-hunting
pioneer, the Kepler Space Telescope, has spent the past nine years focusing
on considerably fainter, more distant stars and discovered nearly
three-quarters of the 3,700-plus exoplanets confirmed to date. With Tess,
“our planetary census is going to move in” closer to us, MIT researcher Jenn
Burt said Sunday. Satellite maker Orbital ATK’s Robert Lockwood said he
expects Tess to take exoplanet discovery to a whole new level.
Alien Life: Tess has no
instruments capable of detecting life. Its job is to find and characterize
planets that will become the main targets of future telescopes. “By looking
at such a large section of the sky, this kind of stellar real estate, we
open up the ability to cherry-pick the best stars for doing follow-up
science,” said Burt. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, once launched in
2020 or so, will probe these planets’ atmospheres for potential traces of
life. Giant telescopes still in construction or on the drawing board also
will lend a hand.