Category: Science

It’s time to shark up y’all


Coronavirus in Context is a weekly newsletter where we bring you facts that matter about the COVID-19 pandemic and the technology trying to stop its spread. You can subscribe here. Hola Earthlings, A few months back, when our beards were shorter and our fuses were longer, we collectively took solace in Netflix‘s “Tiger King” and Nintendo’s Animal Crossings: New Horizons. Remember that? Those were simpler times. We identified with the tigers in their cages – not only were they locked up, but somehow the damn tigers ended up being extras in a show with the word “Tiger” in its name. It seemed weird at…

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5 cognitive biases in data science — and how to avoid them


Recently, I was reading Rolf Dobell’’s The Art of Thinking Clearly, which made me think about cognitive biases in a way I never had before. I realized how deeply seated some cognitive biases are. In fact, we often don’t even consciously realize when our thinking is being affected by one. For data scientists, these biases can really change the way we work with data and make our day-to-day decisions, and generally not for the better. Data science is, despite the seeming objectivity of all the facts we work with, surprisingly subjective in its processes. As data scientists, our job is to make sense…

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The center of the Milky Way twinkles in radiation — this could explain how supermassive black holes behave


The center of the Milky Way twinkles in microwave radiation, seen in new data obtained by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. This study could help explain the behavior of supermassive black holes found throughout the Cosmos. Supermassive black holes reside in the central core of every major galaxy. The one at the center of our own galaxy is called Sagittarius (Sgr) A* (usually pronounced SAJ a star). Sagittarius A* has the mass of four million suns. Astronomers have seen flaring of radiation from this supermassive black hole before, but never in the detail recorded in this new…

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Here’s why you should care about SpaceX’s crewed rocket launch


On May 27, two American astronauts, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, are planning to launch from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station. If successful, this will mark the first time in nine years that American astronauts will launch into space from American soil. What’s even more remarkable is they will not be launched by NASA but by a private company, SpaceX. Human spaceflight is incredibly difficult and expensive; the rockets must be reliable and the vehicle must be built with expensive life support systems and a certain level of redundancy. To date,…

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Or just read more coverage about: SpaceX

Emissions have dropped 17% — but it doesn’t mean we’re addressing climate change


The global COVID-19 quarantine has meant less air pollution in cities and clearer skies. Animals are strolling through public spaces, and sound pollution has diminished, allowing us to hear the birds sing. But these relatively small and temporary changes should not be mistaken for the COVID-19 pandemic actually helping to fix climate change. Quite the contrary: the pandemic that made the world stop offers a glimpse of the deep changes in lifestyles and economic structures that we need to implement if we are to effectively mitigate the worst of climate change. The short-term effects are not in doubt. A new…

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Space is full of junk because private companies keep launching satellites


Since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the lower orbit around the Earth has become an increasingly congested environment with more than 2,200 satellite launches to date. Those satellites – along with launch vehicle components and debris from mechanical disintegration, collisions, and explosions – now fill this region with a “fog” of space debris. And it’s getting busier. In the last few weeks, SpaceX has launched 60 new satellites as part of its Starlink program. This brings the total to currently around 400 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit as part of a program that aims to bring cheap,…

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Coding is a language — and that’s why kids can learn it faster than you


Across the world, the conversion of information into a digital format – also called “digitalization” – has increased productivity in the public and private sectors. As a result, virtually every country in the world is working towards a digital economy. As this new economy evolves, special skills like computer programming are needed. This is like a language of numbers, known as code, which allows people to write instructions that are executed by computers. The goal is to create something: from a web page to an image, to a piece of software. Early coding languages emerged in the 1940s. These were…

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Cannabis is more effective at preventing and treating COVID-19 than hydroxychloroquine


A team of scientists from Canada have identified at least 13 strains of cannabis sativa they believe can aid in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The President of the United States of America has spent the past few weeks touting a dangerous drug called hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic treatment for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the president’s expertise is in reality TV, not medicine. Several studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine, a drug designed to treat malaria, has dangerous side-effects when used to treat coronavirus, including death. The quest for a COVID-19 drug that will both make Donald Trump and his friends in…

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Why nuclear-powered rockets could be the answer to safer space exploration


With dreams of Mars on the minds of both NASA and Elon Musk, long-distance crewed missions through space are coming. But you might be surprised to learn that modern rockets don’t go all that much faster than the rockets of the past. There are a lot of reasons that a faster spaceship is a better one, and nuclear-powered rockets are a way to do this. They offer many benefits over traditional fuel-burning rockets or modern solar-powered electric rockets, but there have been only eight U.S. space launches carrying nuclear reactors in the last 40 years. However, last year the laws…

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Parts of Mars are too salty for Earth’s microorganisms to survive


Microorganisms from Earth traveling to Mars aboard spacecraft would struggle to survive in pockets of salty brine on the Red Planet, a new study suggests. This could be good news for the exploration of Mars, as these conditions would make it less likely the planet may be contaminated by microbes from Earth, hitching a ride on landers touching down on the alien surface. Planetary protection from microbes from Earth has been a goal of NASA and other space agencies since the earliest days of space exploration. “Such regions would be of concern for planetary protection policies owing to the potential…

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