Sample Weekly News Abstracts 


September 20, 2019

Today marks the beginning of a global climate strike — a promise made by millions of people around the globe to walk out of schools, homes, and workplaces in protest of fossil fuels. “Our house is on fire — let’s act like it,” the project’s website states. The strike, scheduled to run through September 27, is the latest in a buildup of events initiated by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who famously began protesting outside her country’s parliament in August 2018. The strike also overlaps with a joint journalism initiative from The Nation magazine and Columbia Journalism Review. With a list of over 250 partners, including international outlets, institutions, and independent journalists, Covering Climate Nowaims to reach an audience of more than 1 billion people from September 15 to 23. During this time, media partners are encouraged to participate in content sharing across outlets to help maximize climate crisis awareness leading up to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. (Multiple Sources)


October 11, 2019 

On Monday evening, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the nation’s largest utility, announced that power outages would start Wednesday in multiple Northern California counties. The outages, which have already affected more than half a million customers, are intended to prevent fires during high seasonal winds forecast for this week. But the event has illustrated the economic inequalities of trying to mitigate impacts from climate change, like wildfires. For example, in a Wednesday tweet, the City of Berkeley posted an alert to residents: “If you are power-dependent for medical reasons and live in a potentially affected area, please use your own resources to relocate to an unaffected area now.” Meanwhile, less vulnerable power lines around big tech companies have been spared. Berkeley officials recommend that those unable to help themselves call 911 to be transported to an emergency room, but there is no clarification whether the expenses of power-outage related visits would be covered. The economic impacts extend beyond those with medical needs tied to electricity. Outages can destroy refrigerated and frozen food and cause workplace closures, affecting hourly workers. The shutdowns are anticipated to continue through next week and affect another quarter of a million customers. (Vox)


October 18, 2019

study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday found that self-reported suicide attempts by black teenagers in the United States increased by 73 percent between 1991 and 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. While the research team found an increase in suicide attempts in black teens, they also reported a decrease in suicide attempts in Hispanic and Asian-American or Pacific Islander teens, and no significant change in white teens. Researchers used data from nearly 200,000 high school students for the study, which also looked at injuries sustained during suicide attempts. The data showed an increase in injury among young black males. According to CDC data, during these years, suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens 15 to 19 years old. The study also references previous data showing that suicide rates among black boys aged 5 to 12 are double those of young white males. The study authors suggest preventative actions, such as finding ways to reduce stigma around mental illness and to “increase help-seeking behaviors.” (The Guardian)


October 25, 2019 

In a study published this week in Nature, Google researchers announced that they had achieved quantum supremacy over classical computers using their 53 qubit quantum computer. Called Sycamore, the computer performed a simple operation in three minutes and 20 seconds that Google claims would take 10,000 years for a powerful, classical machine, IBM’s Summit supercomputer, to execute. But IBM challenged this analysis in a preprint published on their research blog two days before the Google paper was formally released (the study had been briefly leaked on a NASA site prior to official publication). The IBM team says that, with a different kind of classical computing technique, the Summit supercomputer could achieve the same result as Sycamore in only 2.5 days. There’s more at stake for IBM than the performance of its Summit machine; the company announced last month the imminent release of its own 53 qubit computer. (Nature


November 8, 2019

Nobody knew that the Voyager 2 space probe would make it this far, but, 42 years after its launch and more than 12 billion miles from earth, Voyager 2 has crossed the threshold of interstellar space and sent back measurements from the edge of our solar system. In five new papers, published this week in Nature Astronomy, NASA researchers decode those measurements, reporting a distinct boundary at the edge of the heliosphere where solar wind radiating out from the sun meets a cooler interstellar wind. These data support measurements taken by Voyager 1, which crossed the interstellar boundary six years ago. Voyager 1 left the solar system after a visit past Saturn, but Voyager 2 slowed its course at Saturn to meander past Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. The two space probes now form two points of a rough triangle, with the sun as the third point, and their data suggest that the heliosphere may be symmetrical. There is still an ongoing debate as to the shape of the heliosphere, but in some current models, like NASA’s artistic rendition, the “back” end of the heliosphere looks wind-blown, somewhat mirroring models of the earth’s magnetosphere. (The Guardian)


November 15, 2019

Renee Salas “cannot think of a greater health emergency” than the health risks imposed on children by climate change. Salas is a co-author on a new study in The Lancet, which reports that a warming planet does not just mean an increase in natural disasters like hurricanes, flooding, fires, and droughts — but also an environment ripe for diseases like dengue fever, which has seen a marked increase in ideal transmission conditions in the last 20 years. Lead author and Australian ER doctor Nick Watts told the Associated Press that children “will bear the vast majority of the burden of climate change” because of health risks such as respiratory and kidney problems, overheating, and vulnerability to bacterial diseases. For example, the report shows that the number of days ripe for the transmission of Vibrio, a water-borne bacteria that causes diarrhea, has doubled since 1980. Nearly 70 authors contributed the report, which calls for accelerated intervention to combat increased extreme weather events, food and water insecurity, and changes in infectious diseases. (The Associated Press)


November 22, 2019 

On Wednesday, a court in Tehran convicted six researchers with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) of spying, handing down prison sentences that range from six to 10 years. Two more researchers await sentencing. Nine Asiatic cheetah conservationists, whose organization is based in Tehran, were first arrested in early 2018, after Iranian intelligence accused them of spying for foreign governments. Until last month, four faced a possible death sentence for charges of “sowing corruption on Earth.” Another, PWHF cofounder, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in prison. (Iranian authorities say he died by suicide.) The charges against the researchers stem largely from their use of camera traps, which typically take photographs of animals that pass near the cameras’ motion sensors. The PWHF worked with Iran’s Department of Environment and had government permission to use the camera traps, and many analysts believe that the verdicts are political. PWHF had recently severed ties with billionaire investor Thomas Kaplan’s big cat conservation organization, Panthera, after Kaplan publicly denounced Iran at the summit United Against Nuclear Iran. Organizations around the world, and conservationists like Jane Goodall, have expressed their support of the jailed PWHF researchers. (National Geographic)


December 6, 2019

African Swine Fever caused the deaths of approximately a quarter of all pigs on the planet this year, either by direct infection or preventative culling. While the disease continues to spread from China through southeastern Asia and into Eastern Europe, preliminary results from researchers at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York suggest that a new vaccine may be effective at stopping the disease. So far, the research team reported this week, every pig they have inoculated seems to have resisted developing ASF. The next step will be to verify the vaccine in larger herds of pigs, partly to verify that parts of the virus within the vaccine doesn’t endanger other pigs, an issue that has scuttled some previous ASF vaccine attempts. (OneZero)


January 10, 2020

More than 9,000 stars in the night sky are visible to the naked eye, but with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other companies launching thousands of new satellites into low orbit, this number may quickly dwindle. Vox shared a striking picture this week from a telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile showing 19 SpaceX Starlink satellites effectively erasing parts of the image with bright streaks. Disappointed scientists reported a “train of Starlink satellites” that lasted over five minutes, obscuring their view and interrupting research into the behavior of galaxies and how stars form. Astronomers fear that Starlink, which already has the approval from the FCC to launch 12,000 satellites into space to bring internet access to remote locations around the world, might interfere with astronomical research, not to mention views of an unadulterated night sky. SpaceX has tried to work with astronomers to reduce the impact of their satellites on research by, for example, painting the underside of the satellites a dark color. (Vox)


January 17, 2020

Two new exoplanets made the news this week – one goldilocks planet just 100 light years away, and one circumbinary planet about 1300 light years away. The latter was discovered at NASA Goddard by a high school intern, Wolf Cukier, just a few days into his summer internship last year. A circumbinary planet orbits two stars in a binary system and this one, dubbed TOI 1338, is almost 7 times bigger than Earth and is the first of its kind to be discovered by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. The satellite also helped scientists spot what made the news as the potential “goldilocks planet of goldilocks planets”— goldilocks being a nickname for a planet inside of a star’s “habitable” zone, not to warm, not too cold. This exoplanet, TOI 700D, is only about 20 percent larger than our own planet. It orbits a red dwarf: a cooler, smaller version of our own sun, so it’s only around 15 million miles from its sun compared to our 93 million miles. Scientists are able to discover these exoplanets using TESS by analyzing photographs taken by the satellite every 27 days and comparing the brightness of each star over time. An exoplanet transiting in front of a star will affect the star’s brightness, indicating itself to observers. (Time/Time)