NASA refuses to disclose details of a space failure, Britain goes into ecological debt and Neil Armstrong gets a piece of the moon.

The UK Is No Longer Self-Sufficient

A report issued by the New Economics Foundation and the Open University in Britain set April 16 as the date when Britain will go into “ecological debt,” meaning it will run out of its own natural resources and be dependent on goods imported from abroad. The study blames the country’s growing ecological footprint, the amount of land we use for biological production, on increasing consumption. If annual global consumption levels in every country rose to those in the UK, it would take 3.1 Earths to meet the demand.

The British government’s top science adviser, David King, said this week that global temperatures will rise by 5.4 degrees by the end of the century, even if the world puts into action the severest proposed cuts on carbon emissions. He said that rising temperatures would cause drought and water shortages, which would put pressure on the world’s population. But we should not give up, King said, calling for worldwide efforts to mitigate and adapt to the changes.

Twenty years after the Chernobyl reactor melted down, two leading scientists say we still don’t know enough to gauge the health cost of the radioactive material released. Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists argue that additional study of the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could help establish a clearer idea of the effect Chernobyl will ultimately have. Estimates of the number of people who will die as a result of radiation from that disaster have ranged from 9,000 to more than 10 times that figure.

Greenpeace and another environmental group accused the European Commission for using a double standard when it comes to assessing the safety of genetically modified organisms. The groups say internal reports they obtained from the Commission through freedom of information rules show that the EC is aware of the potential hazards of modified crops and foods. Despite their own uncertainty and disagreement, the Commission has repeatedly told the public that genetically modified organisms are safe.

Space Failure Is Kept a Mystery

NASA has announced that it will not release information on the failed encounter of two unmanned spacecraft in outer space, saying that the report is too sensitive. The 800-pound (363 kg) Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) spacecraft was created as part of a NASA program to test the capacities of outer space robots. It found The Pentagon satellite it was designed to approach and got within 300 feet (90 m) of it, but the DART shut down prematurely and did not manage to fly closer. The malfunction may have been due to fuel problems or navigational errors.

Using a massive supercomputer, NASA physicists have created simulations of merging black holes. As they come together, two black holes create ripples in the fabric of space-time, but astronomers have had difficulty detecting these ripples, partially because they weren’t sure exactly what to look for. The simulation will help them identify gravitational patterns created by such an event—a discovery that will have far-reaching implications for the study of space and confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Astronomers are analyzing an interstellar wind in the solar system, using information from imaging cameras and an infrared spectrograph set up in the Libyan Desert during the solar eclipse. The sun’s cooler outer corona, where outer space winds can be tracked, is only visible during eclipses. The Libyan government supplied military planes and helicopters to fly the astronomers to the desert and organized a conference centering on their research.

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Snakes On a Plain

A fossil found in Argentina suggests that snakes first evolved on land, rekindling debates about their evolutionary origins. The fossilized creature, the most primitive snake species ever discovered, lived on land in Patagonia approximately 90 million years ago and had two short hind legs—features that snakes lost as they evolved from lizards. Herpetologists say the discovery may finally provide an answer to the land-versus-sea debate.

Paleontologists in Argentina hypothesized that the Mapusaurus—a large meat-eating dino similar to the better-known T. rex—may have hunted its prey in packs. The speculation came after excavators discovered at least seven of the creatures at a dig in Patagonia. It remains unclear whether the Mapusaurs coordinated their hunting or simply gathered around a kill together, but cooperation may have helped them take down the area’s large herbivore species, some of which could grow to be 125 feet (38 m) long.

An adhesive that keeps bacteria stuck to the insides of water pipes is the most powerful glue found in nature, said scientists researching the substance. The bacteria can hold on against a pressure of five tons per square inch (about 29 metric tons per square cm), the pressure that would be exerted by three or four cars resting on a quarter. This natural technology could be applied to the creation of biodegradable glues that would hold tissues together after surgery in lieu of stitches or stables.

The Next Big One Is Currently Unpredictable

Despite a century of preparation since the last huge earthquake in San Francisco, seismologists are still unable to predict the next one. Californian scientists said this week that research still needs to be done into the beginnings of earthquakes and the forces that stop them before scientists will be able to reliably assess the risks of future shocks.

A joint Taiwan-US funded rocket carrying a cargo of six weather satellites launched from California this week on a five-year mission to track hurricanes and climate change. The satellites weigh 155 pounds (70 kg) each and are 40 inches (100 cm) long, and each one is equipped with a GPS radio receiver, a photometer and beacon to relay data back to Earth. The project will be managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, and was funded by the Taiwanese National Space Organization and the American National Science Foundation.

A nine-year-old satellite from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be repositioned over the Brazilian Amazon so that South American meteorologists will be able to track storms, brush fires and offshore temperature changes. The satellite had formerly been covering American storms, but NOAA is donating it to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, a coalition working to combine observational technology and improve global environmental practices.

Prince Albert Goes North

Another rich man bought himself an adventure, as Monaco’s Prince Albert reached the North Pole after a four-day expedition. The 48-year-old prince, who is the first head of state to visit the pole, made the journey in order to observe the effects of global warming first hand and to raise awareness of the melting Arctic.

Finally, NASA presented astronaut Neil Armstrong with a small piece of the moon that his mission, Apollo 11, brought back to Earth. The award was given as part of the agency’s Ambassadors of Exploration award, created to honor the 35th anniversary of the first moon landing. Armstrong accepted the award at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where it will remain on display for the public.

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Originally published April 21, 2006


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