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Update May 2017


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Science & Nature
 

Update May 20, 2017

Study: Man-made extreme weather has hit all over the world

Most people on Earth have already felt extreme and record heat, drought or downpours goosed by man-made global warming, a new study finds. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - Most people on Earth have already felt extreme and record heat, drought or downpours goosed by man-made global warming, new research finds.

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists analyzed weather stations worldwide and calculated that in 85 percent of the cases, the record for hottest day of the year had the fingerprints of climate change. Heat-trapping gases from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas made those records more likely or more intense.

“The world is not quite at the point where every hot temperature record has a human fingerprint, but it’s getting close to that,” said lead author and Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh.

Climate change’s influence was spotted 57 percent of the time in records for lowest rainfall in a year and 41 percent of the time in records for most rain in a 5-day period, according to the study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the last several years, researchers have come up with a generally accepted scientific technique to determine whether an individual weather extreme event was made more likely or stronger because of climate change. It usually involves past weather data and extensive computer models that simulate how often an event would happen with no warming from greenhouse gases and compare that to how often it does happen.

Outside scientists said what makes Diffenbaugh’s study different and useful is that he doesn’t look at an individual event such as California’s five-year drought. Instead, he applies the technique to weather stations as a whole across the world, said Columbia University climate scientist Adam Sobel, who wasn’t part of new work.

“This is a step forward in that it allows general statements about what fraction of events of the given types selected have a statistically significant” human influence, Sobel said in an email.

Online:

PNAS: www.pnas.org


Science Says: Why are opioids so addictive?

Pleasure. Craving. Withdrawal.

When opioids act on the brain, they trigger the same processes that give people feelings of pleasure from activities like eating, but they do it far more intensely.

Opioids also make some brain cells pump out a chemical messenger called dopamine, which encourages more drug use. Over time, that can produce craving that continues even long after someone stops using opioids, which can lead to relapse.

In other brain circuits, opioids initially produce drowsiness and slower breathing. With repeated exposure, these circuits adapt so that a person feels relatively normal while using the drugs. But that adaptation also means that when a person is not using, they feel jittery and anxious - some of the symptoms of withdrawal.

Opioids can also impair people’s self-control if taken over time, so it’s harder to stop using them even if people want to and even if the drugs no longer give them pleasure.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, compared the effect of the drugs to driving with bad steering.

“Your steering wheel does not work properly. So not only are you actually accelerating with intense desire and motivation to get the drug, you are not able to self-regulate and say, ‘If I take the drug, I will end up in jail.’” (AP)


Update May 13, 2017

Spacecraft survives unprecedented trip between Saturn, rings

This combination of April 26, 2017 images show features in Saturn’s atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it became the first spacecraft to venture between Saturn and its rings. (JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has survived an unprecedented trip between Saturn and its rings, and has amazing pictures to show for it.

Flight controllers regained contact with Cassini on Thursday, a day after it became the first craft to cross this hazardous region. The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini. The spacecraft’s big dish antenna served as a shield as it hurtled through the narrow gap, temporarily cutting off communications.

“We are just ecstatic,” project science engineer Jo Pitesky said by phone from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Cassini skimmed 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops, closer than ever before, and came within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of the innermost visible ring. Scientists say the pictures show details never seen before - there’s an incredible close-up, for instance, of the gigantic swirling hurricane at Saturn’s north pole.

After 13 years of Cassini orbiting the planet, “Saturn continues to surprise us,” Pitesky said.

Given their importance, data from the crossing are being sent to Earth twice, to make certain nothing is lost. It takes more than an hour for the signals to travel the approximately 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) between Saturn and Earth.

Twenty-one more crossings are planned - about one a week - before Cassini’s fatal plunge in mid-September. The next one is Tuesday. Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is between 1,200 and 1,500 miles across (1,900 to 2,400 kilometers).

While risky, this 4 1/2-month grand finale is expected to yield a treasure trove of science. There’s little to lose, even if the spacecraft is lost, given that its fuel tank is practically empty, according to NASA.

Cassini was launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and reached Saturn in 2004.

Online:

NASA: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/ 


Touch new stamp and presto, total solar eclipse becomes moon

These images provided by the U.S. Postal Service show the Total Solar Eclipse Forever stamp. The Postal Service will soon release a first-of-its-kind stamp that changes when you touch it, which commemorates the Aug. 21 eclipse, transforming into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger. (U.S. Postal Service via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The U.S. Postal Service is going all out for this summer’s total solar eclipse, with a first-of-its kind stamp.

Just touch the stamp with your finger, and the heat transforms the image of the blacked-out sun into the moon. Remove your finger, and the eclipse reappears. The trick is using temperature-sensitive ink.

There’s a map on the back of the stamp sheet showing the eclipse’s diagonal path across the U.S. on Aug. 21, as the moon covers the sun in the sky.

It will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States since 1979 and the first one coast to coast since 1918.

Announced Thursday, the Forever 49 cent stamp comes out in June - on the summer solstice.

Online:

Postal Service: http://about.usps.com/news/welcome.htm


Update May 4, 2017

NASA spacecraft halfway between Pluto and next smaller stop

This image made available by NASA in March 2017 shows Pluto illuminated from behind by the sun as the New Horizons spacecraft travels away from it at a distance of about 120,000 miles (200,000 kilometers). (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now halfway between Pluto and its next much, much smaller stop.

New Horizons - which reached the milestone this month - is bound for an even more remote object called 2014 MU69. Like Pluto, the object orbits in our solar system’s twilight zone known as the Kuiper Belt, but is barely 1 percent its size. MU69 is nearly 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

The spacecraft will swoop past MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

“That flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization,” chief investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said in a statement.

With another 466 million miles (750 million kilometers) remaining, New Horizons has now gone into a five-month hibernation.

Although still zooming along, the spacecraft is slowing down slightly as it gets farther from the sun. Besides aiming for MU69, New Horizons will study a couple dozen other Kuiper Belt objects from afar.

New Horizons arrived at Pluto in July 2015, becoming its first visitor from Earth. It launched from Cape Canaveral in 2006.

The spacecraft is currently 3.5 billion miles (5.7 billion kilometers) from home. It takes radio signals five hours and 20 minutes to reach the spacecraft from the control center at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland.

Online:

Johns Hopkins: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/


Supply ship named for John Glenn arrives at space stat ion

In this image made from video provided by NASA, the S.S. John Glenn cargo ship prepares to dock with the International Space Station on Saturday, April 22, 2017. (NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - A supply ship bearing John Glenn’s name arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday, April 22.

Astronauts used the station’s big robot arm to grab the capsule, as the craft flew 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Germany.

NASA’s commercial shipper, Orbital ATK, named the spacecraft the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the first American to orbit Earth. It rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Tuesday, April 18, with nearly 7,700 pounds of food, experiments and other goods.

Glenn died in December at age 95 and was buried earlier this month at Arlington National Cemetery. His widow, Annie, granted permission for Orbital ATK to use his name for the Cygnus spacecraft. The company, in fact, sent up some memorabilia for the Glenn family.

Glenn made history in 1962 when he soared into orbit aboard Friendship 7, his one-man Mercury capsule. He returned to space in 1998 aboard shuttle Discovery, at age 77, right before station construction began in orbit.

Space station commander Peggy Whitson - who on Monday set a U.S. record for most accumulated time in orbit - notified Mission Control when S.S. John Glenn was captured.

“We’re very proud to welcome on board the S.S. John Glenn,” said French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who took part in the operation. The contents “will be put to good use to continue our mission of research, exploration and discovery.”

Whitson and Pesquet have been living on the space station since November, along with a Russian. They were joined by another American and Russian on Thursday.

Whitson is making her third space station flight. Early Monday, she will surpass the 534-day, two-hour-and-change mark set by astronaut Jeffrey Williams last year.

The S.S. John Glenn, meanwhile, will remain at the orbiting outpost until July, when it is let go to burn up in the atmosphere.

Online:

NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/mission _pages/station/main/index.html

Orbital ATK: https://www.orbitalatk .com/
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Study: Man-made extreme weather has hit all over the world

Science Says: Why are opioids so addictive?


Spacecraft survives unprecedented trip between Saturn, rings

Touch new stamp and presto, total solar eclipse becomes moon


NASA spacecraft halfway between Pluto and next smaller stop

Supply ship named for John Glenn arrives at space stat ion

 



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