Jul 19, 2021


The Space Tourism Industry is Stuck in Its Billionaire Phase

In this beginning phase, flying to space is priced only for the ultra-rich, driven by the high costs of new space technology. Virgin Galactic’s launch of Richard Branson represented one of the final key test missions to validate its shiny six-seated spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo, but it was also a meticulously crafted marketing event, complete with flashy promo videos, inspirational speeches, and a pop concert, all designed to help attract more attention, and more customers.

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While Branson and Bezos’ flights to space mark key moments for their space tourism businesses, the space industry is far from being able to offer its services to the rest of the public. To get there, they’ll have to clear several hurdles: Can these rockets reliably fly humans on multiple missions without a hitch? If there is a hitch, like a fatal accident, can the market survive a damaged reputation? And can someone buy a ticket to space just as they can book an expensive flight (instead of just the ultra-rich)?

Then there’s the court of public opinion, which may be difficult to win over. Bezos, Branson and Elon Musk’s space ambitions have been criticized as another example of billionaires spending money on passion projects when there are places and causes where those funds could arguably be put to better use. The US alone struggles with vast wealth inequities, poor access to healthcare and a rapidly changing climate, among other problems that, when paired with space tourism, makes the activity look insultingly selfish to many. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a leading critic of billionaires, has repeated that point as the private space race heats up. “Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor — but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space!,” he tweeted in March.


When A City-Size Star Becomes A Black Hole's Lunch, The Universe Roils

A black hole swallowing a neutron star — a star more massive than our sun but only about the size of a city — has been observed for the first time ever.

Each of these space monsters is among the most extreme and mysterious phenomena in the universe. The new find, described Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, shows how the very fabric of the universe gets roiled when the two come together.

Researchers found not just one, but two black holes making snacks of neutron stars. Their noshing happened about 1 billion years ago but was so intense that it shook space-time and sent out ripples that only recently hit the Earth, triggering giant detectors built to sense these waves.

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Being able to detect this kind of previously unobservable event is just the latest step forward in the study of gravitational waves, which are waves sent through space by powerful collisions. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves more than a century ago, although even he had some doubts. The first time they were detected, in 2015, was such a big deal that work leading to the feat was almost immediately awarded a Nobel Prize. So far, scientists have detected more than 50 events.

Astronomers spot first activity on giant megacomet beyond Saturn

Spotting the first signs of activity on a record-setting comet of gargantuan size came down to a time-zone advantage.

Astronomers in New Zealand were the first to spot a coma, or zone of gas and dust, spreading around the megacomet C/2014 UN271, also known as Bernardinelli-Bernstein, which may be 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet. It could be the most massive comet ever found in all of recorded history.

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What caught Bannister's attention was a foamy coma emerging at an incredible distance from the sun. When the image was taken, Bernardinelli-Bernstein was about 19 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. (One AU is the average Earth-sun distance — about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers). That's roughly double the orbital distance of Saturn from the sun. Solar energy at that juncture is a fraction of what we enjoy here on Earth.

That said, the comet has a lot of mass available to heat up. Bernardinelli-Bernstein's huge core (or nucleus) is estimated to be more than 62 miles (100 km) in diameter, which is three times as large as the next-known largest comet nucleus — that of Comet Hale-Bopp, a famous naked-eye comet that passed by Earth in 1998. Unfortunately for eager astronomers, however, Bernardinelli-Bernstein won't get very close to our planet for observations.

NASA: Moon "wobble" will cause dramatic increases in coastal flooding

A "wobble" in the moon's orbit will combine with rising sea levels due to the Earth's warming to bring "a decade of dramatic increases" in high-tide coastal floods across the U.S. in the 2030s, NASA warns in a new study. Why it matters: Low-lying areas near sea level already increasingly at risk from flooding will see their situation "only get worse," per a statement from NASA administrator Bill Nelson.
"The combination of the Moon's gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world."

— Nelson

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  • While such events are not dangerous on their own, what's new is how one of the wobble's effects on the moon's gravitational pull — the main cause of Earth’s tides — will combine with rising sea levels resulting from the planet's warming, according to NASA.

Ancient diamonds show Earth was primed for life at least 2.7 billion years ago

Ancient diamonds indicate that Earth was primed for life’s explosion at least 2.7 billion years ago, researchers have said.

Volatile gases conserved in diamonds found in ancient rocks were present in similar proportions to those found in the Earth’s mantle – which lies between the planet’s core and crust.

This indicates there has been no fundamental change in the proportions of these gases in the atmosphere over the last few billion years.

The research suggests that one of the basic conditions necessary to support life, the presence of life-giving elements in sufficient quantity, appeared soon after Earth formed, and has remained fairly constant ever since.

Just 7% of our DNA is unique to modern humans, study shows

What makes humans unique? Scientists have taken another step toward solving an enduring mystery with a new tool that may allow for more precise comparisons between the DNA of modern humans and that of our extinct ancestors.

Just 7% of our genome is uniquely shared with other humans, and not shared by other early ancestors, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

"That's a pretty small percentage," said Nathan Schaefer, a University of California computational biologist and co-author of the new paper. "This kind of finding is why scientists are turning away from thinking that we humans are so vastly different from Neanderthals."

The research draws upon DNA extracted from fossil remains of now-extinct Neanderthals and Denisovans dating back to around 40,000 or 50,000 years ago, as well as from 279 modern people from around the world.

Long-lost Rembrandt worth up to nearly $240M found by accident

A long-lost painting created by one of the most celebrated artists in history has been discovered after it fell off the wall of a home in Rome, Italy, and was sent for restoration.

The Rembrandt painting, “The Adoration of the Magi,” was painted by the famous Dutch artist around 1632-1633 and considered to be one of his lost paintings. The painting depicts the three wise men visiting baby Jesus.

It was previously believed that only copies of the original painting had survived. The best known copies of the painting are kept in Gothenburg, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

In 2016, the painting fell off a wall and was sent to Antonella Di Francesco, an art restorer, to be revitalized. She quickly suspected the canvas may have been the original. After cleaning away hundreds of years of varnish, Di Francesco confirmed her suspicion it was a genuine Rembrandt, according to CNN.

Neuroscientists warn advertisers are trying to 'weaponize sleep' by plugging into your dreams

A centuries-old method used to shape a person’s dreams could become an effective tool for advertisers to subtly manipulate consumers, potentially creating a way to weaponize sleep.

A group of experts wrote an open letter in June speaking out against corporate use of dream incubation, The Guardian reported. Dream incubation involves “techniques employed during wakefulness to help a person dream about a specific topic.”

. . .

“Something like 30 million people have these listening, Alexa-type devices in their bedroom. And those devices can play anything they want whenever they want and advertisers could buy advertising time, [for adverts] they want played at 2:30 in the morning,” Stickgold said.

“You could have this sort of 1984 situation where advertisers buy advertising time on these devices, and nobody ever knows they’re hearing them,” Stickgold continued.

Spanking can worsen a child's behavior and do real harm, study finds

Physical punishment does not appear to improve a child's positive behavior or social competence over time, according to a review of 69 studies from the US, Canada, China, Colombia, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The review, published Monday in the journal Lancet, found physical punishment such as spanking is "harmful to children's development and well-being," said senior author Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor in human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.

"Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behavior," Gershoff said. "Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children's behavior and instead makes it worse."

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The most "consistent support," in 13 of 19 independent studies, was that spanking and other forms of child punishment created more external problem behaviors over time, Gershoff said, such as "increased aggression, increased antisocial behavior, and increased disruptive behavior in school."

182 unmarked graves discovered near residential school in B.C.'s Interior, First Nation says

A First Nation in B.C.'s South Interior says 182 unmarked grave sites have been discovered near the location of a former residential school.

The community of ʔaq̓am, one of four bands in the Ktunaxa Nation and located near the city of Cranbrook, B.C., used ground-penetrating radar to search a site close to the former St. Eugene's Mission School, the Lower Kootenay Band announced Wednesday.

In a statement, the ʔaq̓am band said it began searching the area for burial sites after finding an unknown, unmarked grave during remedial work around the ʔaq̓am cemetery last year. The cemetery is adjacent to the former school.

. . .

The finding adds to the growing tally of unmarked burial sites discovered near or adjacent to residential schools in preliminary scans across Canada over the past month, including 215 in Kamloops and 751 in Saskatchewan.

Feds may investigate Chemawa Indian School in Salem after discovery of Canadian mass graves

Chemawa Indian School in Salem — the oldest continuously operated residential boarding school for Native American students in the United States — may come under federal review following U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's call for the government to investigate its past oversight of such schools.

Located just east of Keizer Station, Chemawa had about 335 students enrolled as of October 2019. The off-reservation institution is more than 125 years old and one of only four Native American residential boarding schools still in existence in the United States and run by federal agencies.

That said, there are 183 federally-funded elementary and secondary schools total. Of those, 53 are operated by the Bureau of Indian Education, including Chemawa, and 130 are tribally controlled under BIE contracts or grants.

Haaland's new Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative follows the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves by Canada's Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Actor Allison Mack Sentenced To 3 Years In Prison For NXIVM Case

A federal judge has sentenced Allison Mack to 3 years in prison, along with a $20,000 fine, for her involvement in the NXIVM case.

Mack was one of the lead deputies and recruiters for NXIVM — the cult group that masqueraded itself as a self-help organization. The group's leader, Keith Raniere, was sentenced to 120 years in prison in October for racketeering and sex trafficking charges.

According to recently released documents, federal prosecutors asked the judge for a more lenient sentencing on Mack's behalf, saying she was cooperative in the case against Rainere. Notably, Mack provided the government with a recording of the ceremony in which women were branded with Raniere's initials.

"Although Mack could have provided even more substantial assistance had she made the decision to cooperate earlier, Mack provided significant, detailed and highly corroborated information which assisted the government in its prosecution," wrote acting United States Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis.

Ron Miscavige, who renounced Scientology, the church his son leads, dies at 85

In 1969, Ron Miscavige brought his 9-year-old son to his first Scientology counseling session in an attempt to rid the boy of frightening bouts of asthma.

The ailment disappeared. The suburban New Jersey family became instant believers.

That boy, David Miscavige, grew up to assume control of Scientology when founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, at first a point of pride for his father. But over time, Ron Miscavige wrote in his 2016 memoir, power of the multibillion dollar organization corrupted his son, as he turned Scientology into something that is “manipulative, coercive and, in my mind, evil.”

Ron Miscavige, who became one of the most prominent Scientology defectors by declaring the leader of the church, his son, a tyrant defrauding followers and breaking apart families, died on Monday, after five years of health issues, including cancer, according to his wife, Becky Miscavige. He was 85.

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