Newsy - Sci/Health The Latest Videos From <![CDATA[10 National Monuments Could Be Losing Certain Important Protections]]> Mon, 18 Sep 2017 20:38:00 -0500
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The Trump administration wants to modify protections for 10 U.S. national monuments. That's several more than previously reported. 

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke recommended at least four land monuments be shrunk and that 10 sites allow commercial activity. His recommendation came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April to review monument designations from the last 21 years that are at least 100,000 acres.

Marine sites in the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii are also included in the report. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service referred to one of those sites as "one of the last frontiers and havens for wildlife in the world."

Zinke's report states "certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity." He argues presidents shouldn't restrict that type of usage "unless such action is needed to protect the object."

SEE MORE: Patagonia Is Going After Trump For His National Monument Plans

Presidents have the power to protect public lands and waters that face imminent threat thanks to the Antiquities Act. But the act doesn't explicitly let the president rescind those protections.

That's led to some pretty expansive monuments. The Bears Ears monument, designated by former President Barack Obama, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, designated by former President Bill Clinton, take up a combined 3.2 million acres in Utah.

Other site locations include California, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, American Samoa and Massachusetts.

Obama's designation of Bears Ears was meant to protect thousands of archaeological sites; however, some local officials complained about the loss of potential energy and mining jobs.

Those opposed to Zinke's recommendations say adjusting monument borders and allowing commercial activity will hurt wildlife and endangered species.

No other president has gone this far in limiting monument protections, according to an official at the National Parks Conservation Association. And opponents worry Trump may go even further and completely remove some designations. 

The White House is currently reviewing the recommendations. 

<![CDATA[Could You Handle 8 Months In Isolation To Help Astronauts Get To Mars?]]> Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:44:00 -0500
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Eight months on Hawaii might be idyllic, but eight months of isolation probably isn't on many people's wish lists.

Thanks to funding from NASA, the University of Hawaii at Manoa used an area near one of the world's largest volcanoes as a proxy for Mars.

And on Sept. 17, six test subjects finished their long stint in the isolated habitat.

The location's conditions were similar to those on Mars, and the crew lived and worked like they would on the red planet.

They ate "mostly shelf-stable foods," and they wore "space suits" outside so they couldn't feel the sun or wind.

Communication to the outside world was delayed 20 minutes; that's about how long it takes a message to travel from Mars to Earth.

SEE MORE: Here's What Elon Musk Wants Astronauts To Wear On The SpaceX Dragon

The mission was the fifth of its kind since 2012. Besides testing the stress of isolation, the goal also is to figure out how to pick a team of astronauts who will work cohesively during an extended stay on Mars.

Teamwork over the long haul is important, considering researchers think a round trip to the red planet will take three years.

<![CDATA[China's Air Pollution Might Be Causing Its Residents To Die Early]]> Mon, 18 Sep 2017 07:32:00 -0500
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Air pollution in China could be taking years off residents' lives.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says people living in northern China will die at least three years earlier than their southern counterparts. In some cities, that's closer to seven years.

Air pollution concentration in China's northern region is close to 50 percent higher than in the south. That's partly due to a policy that gives northerners free coal during the winter. 

China has been trying to tackle the problem. It's switching its primary heating source from coal to gas and electric.

The country has also pushed for more regulations. China's Premier Li Keqiang declared a war on pollution in 2014. The following year, heavily polluted Beijing saw the amount of harmful particles in the air drop by 15 percent.

China still remains below global air quality standards, but it's hardly alone. More than 4 billion people worldwide are exposed to air pollution levels at least double what the World Health Organization considers safe. 

SEE MORE: India Is On Its Way To Having The Worst Air Pollution In The World

One of the study's authors, Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said: "Particulate matter is the greatest environmental risk to human health around the world, and most of the damages are occurring in China and India."

Researchers used their findings to build an air pollution index that lets people around the world see how much longer they would live if they were to breathe cleaner air.

If China were to meet the World Health Organization standards, it would extend its resident life expectancy by over a year.

<![CDATA[Getting A Fix: Tackling New Synthetic Drugs]]> Mon, 18 Sep 2017 07:00:00 -0500
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"Getting a Fix" is an in-depth series that explores the opioid epidemic gripping the United States.

Two milligrams of the drug fentanyl is enough to cause an adult to accidentally overdose.

"If you are taking this, you have no idea of knowing if this is going to be the last time that you take that, because it's that strong," said Melvin Patterson, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's fueling the opioid epidemic. It's 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

But what makes fentanyl more dangerous than many other drugs is it can be manipulated to create new substances — substances that are more potent and deadly.

"Two or three times a month we will identify a new substance that had never been encountered before. The challenge is that the substances are changing so frequently that there aren't always reference material available," said Jill Head, a senior forensic chemist with the DEA's Special Testing and Research Laboratory.

In an undisclosed location in Virginia, forensic chemists at the DEA are tasked with identifying new drugs being found on the streets.

"For the first several years, it was a tremendous challenge. We were constantly playing catch-up, and we referred to it as whack-a-mole. We would knock one down, and two more would pop up in its place. It's not so much about staying ahead anymore, I would say. I think it's more about being aware of what the issue is," Head said.

And now the issue is fentanyl and the various other drugs it can become.

SEE MORE: Getting A Fix: Preventing Opioid Addiction

In the 1960s, fentanyl was developed for use as an anesthetic during surgery. By the 1990s, doctors prescribed it to help cancer patients relieve pain. It's still legal for medical professionals to prescribe it for treatment.

To the DEA, fentanyl is a class of drugs. Its core molecule can be manipulated to create deadlier substances, like acetyl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl and carfentanil. That process is called synthesizing, and it's not easy.

"The synthesis of these substances require some sophistication and some knowledge of chemistry. The chemist would take a small portion and dissolve it in a solvent ... it has to be in a liquid form. Then we take that liquid and we analyze," Head said.

The DEA says the majority of synthetic opioids found mixed with other drugs are produced illegally in Mexico or China. People order it on the dark web and get it in the mail. And drug traffickers are smuggling it into the U.S. through the Mexican and Canadian borders.

In March, China put carfentanil on its controlled substance list, making it harder to buy and sell illegally.

Synthetic drugs are often made in small, clandestine labs, making it cheaper for drug traffickers to produce. With synthetic opioids, traffickers don't have to worry about opium crops surviving, like with heroin. These substances are also more potent, so traffickers don't need a lot of it to make a profit.

"Basically, if I had a pure kilogram of fentanyl, what I want to do is I want to mix that with something else that would basically make it less potent. Thereby instead of having 1 kilogram, I would probably produce 5 kilograms of it now. But the only thing they know how to do is to mix it and to expand it, so they can make more money. They don't have any idea if it's still lethal or how to even test that it's still lethal. The danger is still passed on to the consumer," Patterson said.

Patterson's point: Consumers often don't know what drugs they're buying.

And the problem is becoming more widespread. According to DEA emerging threat reports, officials are seizing heroin laced with fentanyl at a higher rate than ever before.

But fentanyl isn't the only drug used to cut heroin.

The DEA lab has found samples of heroin mixed with carfentanil, a substance that is 100 times more potent than its counterpart fentanyl.

"Carfentanil is a veterinary tranquilizer, and it's a tranquilizer that is used for very large animals, like rhinoceroses and elephants," Head said, explaining that about .6 milligrams is fatal to humans.

Head said the substances all look the same.

"It really requires analysis here in the laboratory to identify what substance is present," she said.

But some labs across the country don't have the resources or don't know they need to test for these synthetic drugs.

For now, Head and the team of forensic chemists at the DEA continue to help smaller labs across the country identify unknown substances and by training other chemists how to do the testing. 

Head said DEA chemists train 20 to 25 other chemists from around the U.S. 14 times a year on how to safely identify new substances. 

"We've gotten a lot better at being able to predict what might be coming next; we put more resources in place to be able to synthesize and make reference materials, to assist with the identification of unknown samples, and so we've gotten a lot faster and more proactive in combating the challenge," Head said.

<![CDATA[The Future Of Malaria Prevention May Be Satellites We Already Have]]> Sun, 17 Sep 2017 11:22:00 -0500
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Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.

While rates of the mosquito-borne illness have dropped, in recent years, close to half the world's population was still at risk. 

But you can't monitor half of the planet — or can you?

University researchers and the Peruvian government think NASA satellites may be a game-changer in preventing malaria.

NASA's probes are already circling Earth, collecting weather and environmental data.

They're mapping rainfall, soil moisture levels, deforestation and other variables that happen to be key factors for mosquitoes breeding.

SEE MORE: NASA's Juno Might've Found Where Jupiter's Powerful Auroras Come From

So instead of tracking where mosquitoes are, the idea is these satellites could predict where mosquitoes will be.

NASA's existing model can even predict where new puddles, ponds and other key breeding areas are likely to form.

The researchers hope to fine-tune a system that'll allow them to foresee "down to the household level" where malaria will take hold — three months before it actually does so.

That way bed nets, indoor sprays and other measures could be handed out where they're most needed.

Currently, resources are going to places where few people are getting infected, allowing outbreaks to grow.

Peru's government wants to completely eliminate malaria in the country and the Amazon region within the next five years.

Beyond malaria, the researchers believe the satellite data could also help track other diseases like Zika.

<![CDATA[Apple Is Hiring Counselors To Improve Siri's Mental Health Support]]> Fri, 15 Sep 2017 18:11:00 -0500
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Apple is getting a lot of attention for its new iPhone with facial recognition and emoji features. But the company is also working to improve features for another matter: mental health.

Mashable notes Apple is looking to recruit a Siri software engineer for health and wellness.

The job description, posted in April, reads, "People have serious conversations with Siri ... including when they're having a stressful day or have something serious on their mind." 

The position specifies a need for people with peer counseling or psychology backgrounds, as well as experience in computer science and AI technology. It's one of the many recent positions focused on health technologies. 

SEE MORE: We're Entering A New Era In How We Treat Depression

Apple's efforts follow other tech company initiatives to aid mental health concerns. Earlier this summer, Google added a screening test to mobile searches for "depression" and "am I depressed?" One expert said the feature "could raise awareness" about treatment. 

Beyond Apple and Google, other mental health apps like iCBTMoodTools and PTSD Coach offer avenues for people looking to receive digital support. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created PTSD Coach to offer strategies and coping mechanisms for people with the condition.

But some experts question the effectiveness of these digital initiatives. One research study said most app-based mental health programs lacked clinical credibility and effectiveness and might even result in over-reliance and increased anxiety. 

This doesn't necessarily mean all mental health apps are ineffective. But it does mean users should be wary of what they download. To aid in the search, experts recommend digital tools that involve actual clinicians, or at the very least, publish patient statistics.

<![CDATA[Tiny Satellites Will Give Wildfire-Fighting A Big Boost]]> Fri, 15 Sep 2017 15:19:00 -0500
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Satellites are great for tracking wildfires. But there aren't many satellites, and they aren't always where they need to be.

That's starting to change, though, thanks to big advances in tiny space technology.

It's becoming more cost-effective to develop and launch swarms of smaller sensors into space. They aren't always as high-resolution as the cameras on bigger satellites, but for firefighting, it's more important they be in the right place at the right time.

And the more cameras there are in space, the faster firefighters can see what's happening on Earth. Canadian fire agencies, for example, use images from more than 100 tiny, privately operated satellites from Planet Labs. Enough of them are in orbit that firefighters can pinpoint where a fire is and how it's growing within a day of it starting.

The U.S. uses images from just two satellites to build its fire maps. The satellites can capture an image of the entire globe every day. But with fewer cameras, it's less likely they'll be overhead when a fire starts. It could be hours before one of the satellites spots trouble.

SEE MORE: Maybe We Should Just Let Wildfires Burn

So NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working with California companies to bolt tiny thermal sensors onto a bunch of different satellites. More and smaller sensors will make finding fires a lot faster.

When the full network is in place in 2018, JPL expects it could spot a new fire in as little as 15 minutes and beam down updates on the fire's progress every minute.

<![CDATA[Cassini's 13 Years Exploring Saturn Just Came To An End]]> Fri, 15 Sep 2017 10:12:00 -0500
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The Cassini spacecraft's 13-year mission exploring Saturn is over.

Cassini plunged into the planet's upper atmosphere at 77,000 miles per hour around 6:30 a.m. ET Friday. Because Saturn is roughly 890 million miles away from Earth, NASA scientists didn't receive the craft's final signal until 8 a.m.

Before it burned up, Cassini sent back data on the composition of Saturn's upper atmosphere. On Thursday, the spacecraft beamed back its last set of photos of the planet's system.

SEE MORE: Cassini Spacecraft Gets A 'Goodbye Kiss' Before It Meets Its End

Those are just some of the more than 450,000 images Cassini took of Saturn and our solar system over the years.

NASA launched Cassini in 1997, and the spacecraft reached Saturn in 2004. The probe's mission ended because it was low on fuel.

<![CDATA[Snow Leopards Aren't Endangered Anymore, But They're Still Vulnerable]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 21:19:00 -0500
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Snow leopards have been taken off the International Union for Conservation of Nature's endangered species list.

The rare animals only live in 12 countries in Asia, and their new status means they've bounced back from a population below 2,500. Which is great news for the large cat: It's been on the endangered list since 1972

To determine if an animal is endangered or not, the IUCN looks at population size and population trends. If there are fewer than 2,500 individuals left, and their population is decreasing by at least 20 percent over 16 years, the animal's endangered.

SEE MORE: How To Freeze The Decline Of Earth's Endangered Species

And while the snow leopard no longer meets those two criteria, this comeback story isn't over yet. It's still considered "vulnerable" by the IUCN.

The leopard still faces threats, mostly from humans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest threat may come from climate change, which could destroy up to 30 percent of the snow leopards Himalayan habitat alone. 

<![CDATA[Teen's Invention Aims To Help Those With Food Allergies Safely Eat Out]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 21:17:00 -0500
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About 15 million Americans have food allergies. And if you feel like you've heard more and more about food allergies in recent years, you probably have.

FAIR Health, a nonprofit that compiles insurance claim data, found the number of health insurance claims that included a diagnosis of anaphylactic food reactions went up 377 percent between 2007 and 2016.

Anaphylactic food reactions are when the body has a severe reaction to the antigen, which is the substance it's allergic to. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, getting a rash, turning pale and losing consciousness.

"Both the incidence and prevalence of food allergies have increased tremendously," Dr. James R. Baker Jr. said. 

Baker is the CEO and chief medical officer of Food Allergy Research and Education. It's a nonprofit focused on improving education and awareness of food allergies. It also says it's the world's largest source of private funding for food allergy research.

"I've been an allergist for 35 years, and when I first started practicing, if we saw someone with a food allergy, we invited in all the trainees because it was an anomaly," Baker explained. "Now a third of the population that we see. And unfortunately — and that's the patient population, not the total population. But the reasons for that are probably multiple: Food has changed; the environment has changed; and childhood development has changed. Young people are very fortunate that they don't get sick anymore. They get vaccines and antibiotics, and the food is very different for them. So in fact, their immune systems don't evolve the way they used to. And we think all these factors are coming into increasing the incidence of food allergy."

One person who is hoping to make more people aware of the dangers of food allergies is Katie Parkins.

She's a typical 13-year-old busy with eighth grade and after-school activities like choir. But she also has to deal with some pretty adult stuff: severe allergies that if left untreated can be life-threatening. Parkins isn't alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 13 American children have food allergies.

"Eating out — it's always been a challenge for me for so many reasons," Parkins said. "I don't really know if the waiter or waitress is writing down my allergens. Sometimes, they might mix them up."

A mix-up can be very dangerous for Parkins.

She explained: "My tongue will start to sting immediately. Then about three or four hives will appear across my face. ... I am anaphylactic with all of those foods and so what will happen is overtime, if I'm not given Benadryl or an EpiPen, if it comes to be that severe, my throat will close and my airways will be blocked for breathing."

Parkins was diagnosed with food allergies before she turned 3. She's allergic to tree nuts, and her allergies to fish and shellfish are so severe, the simple smell of them can cause a reaction.

The CDC says between 150 and 200 people die each year from reactions to food allergies. It cites a study that found that over a 13-year period, about half of food allergy-related deaths were caused by foods from restaurants or other food services.

SEE MORE: Food Allergies Could Soon Be Turned Off By Tiny Bits Of Plastic

But only a few states have laws on the books aimed at improving restaurants' awareness of food allergies. And only some of those states require a restaurant manager to complete training on handling food allergies.

Parkins said: "I was brainstorming, ‘How can I fix this? How can I guarantee that I know that my allergens are properly listed on the order ticket already? And how they know about cross contact and how that can still be attached to my order.'"

That brainstorming session led Parkins to create My Teal Ticket. It's a form people with food allergies can fill out and hand to their servers at restaurants.

Parkins explained how it works: "They will check mark their allergens so it's already written down. And if their allergen is not written down, let's say they're allergic to sesame seeds. They would write down 'sesame seeds' under 'other,' then fill in the box and check mark 'other.' Let's say their allergies — they're more severe, so they need the waiter or waitress or the kitchen staff to take extra care to make sure that the allergens don't come into contact with the meal. They have to use fresh knives, fresh equipment, they would check 'cross contact.'"

That idea Parkins had in November became a business in July. She has a website and began getting orders the day it launched.

"Truthfully, I didn't expect the business to kick off as quickly as it did," she said.

Or to reach as far as it did.

"We've had people contact us from Canada, the U.K. — different places in Europe," Parkins said.

Baker explained: "This helps two ways: It helps the vendor focus on food allergy and appreciate the individual who has food allergy. And it sort of reinforces for the person with food allergy to the restaurant or other store that this is a problem for them. One of the problems with food allergy is a lack of awareness and understanding. People hear the word 'allergy' and they think more of an annoyance rather than something that could actually kill you. So in fact, we've had to do a lot of education related to this. I think the education and the fact that so many people are allergic to food now, have both come together to increase awareness. And that in and of itself has helped with the understanding of people that don't have food allergies or that prepare or serve."

Parkins says she's just getting started.

"My hopes and plans for the future is to have people have a safer and easier dining experience while using My Teal Ticket. And to promote and share real stories of people in real life that do have food allergies so people can get a better understanding of what it is like," Parkins explained.

My Teal Ticket is also available in Spanish. Parkins says there could be more languages available in the future.

Get a deeper understanding of the stories that matter with Newsy's "The Why" — weekdays 7-9 p.m. ET.

<![CDATA[In The US, Minorities Are Exposed To More Air Pollution]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 19:47:00 -0500
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People of color are exposed to more air pollution than their white non-Hispanic counterparts.

Researchers at the University of Washington looked at exposure to nitrogen dioxide, one of the main pollutants produced by cars. It found that race was the most significant influence on rates of exposure — more than income, age or education. 

These findings are in line with what we know about segregation in U.S. cities. For instance, race tends to determine where someone lives within a city and minorities are more likely to live near high-traffic roadways.

Exposure to this type of pollution can lead to respiratory diseases like asthma or cause asthma attacks in people who already have the disease.

Other studies have found that living close to major roadways increases your risk of dying from lung cancer. And the new study found 5,000 premature deaths from heart disease could have been prevented in minority groups if they had breathed the lower pollution levels whites tend to experience.

SEE MORE: Air Pollution Could Be Contributing To Millions Of Premature Births

The problem extends to schools, too. A report earlier this year found 4.4 million school children were exposed to highly polluted air. The problem was more pronounced in schools with more low-income and minority students.

Children exposed to air pollution tend to develop asthma, which in turn may lead to childhood obesity. But their cognitive development can also be impacted by long-term exposure to the pollution.

The researchers did notice that from 2000 to 2010 the pollution exposure gap between people of color and whites did decrease. But they think that's a sign air quality improved overall, not that cities were becoming more integrated.

<![CDATA[Cassini Wasn't Only Great At Science; It Was Also Great At Photos]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 17:18:00 -0500
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The Cassini spacecraft was a scientific powerhouse. It helped discover six moons and was cited in nearly 4,000 scientific papers.

But as we see in its final photos, Cassini was also a great photographer. It snapped over 450,000 images during its 20-year voyage.

It started with this close-up of Jupiter. Cassini used the planet's gravity to boost itself to Saturn.

When it got there, it took some planned artistic shots, like this one of the planet illuminated by the sun. It managed to include our planet in some of its best pics of Saturn, like this one taken 900 million miles away from Earth.

Cassini also gave us our closest-ever views of Saturn's most interesting features, like its northern polar hexagon, its incredibly thin rings and its atmosphere.

SEE MORE: Why Are So Many Space Probes Sent Smashing Into Things?

And it showed us the many moons orbiting Saturn. We got our first detailed views of the Earth-like moon Titan and the icy moon Enceladus, both of which might support extraterrestrial life.

But some of the most beautiful shots were of Saturn's most violent weather, like this huge storm seen in the Northern Hemisphere, or the 1,250-mile-wide eye of a storm on its north pole.

If you want to see more Saturn photos, NASA posted Cassini's best work on the agency's website.

<![CDATA[Sand Wars: Illegal Mining Is Making One Natural Resource A Lot Rarer]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:52:00 -0500
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Extracting and using natural resources has fueled social and political conflict for years, especially when it comes to oil. Now, another resource is gaining attention — sand.

Global demand for sand has increased in recent decades. It's a key ingredient in concrete, asphalt, glass and electronics.

But that's a problem. Over-extraction of sand can erode ecosystems and habitats. It degrades coral and seaweed, and reduces protection from storm surge on some coastlines.

And, according to Jack Liu, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University, the problem is only getting worse.

"This issue has been going on for a long time," Liu said. "It's recently become more and more severe because of rapid development in many parts of the world. Economic development, urbanization, industrialization — all this drives the skyrocketing demand for sand."

SEE MORE: Brazil Opens Part Of The Amazon Rainforest To Privatized Mining

Liu and his colleagues recently published a paper about the consequences as the demand for sand increases. He said in addition to social and political conflicts, sand mining can also create breeding sites for malaria-transmitting mosquitoes.

They also noted sand is still poorly regulated and that policymakers often overlook the issue because of the misconception that sand is unlimited. It's not. For example, Vietnam's domestic demand for sand exceeds its total reserves, and the country could run out of it for construction by 2020. Limited supplies have led to violence, and some countries have "sand mafias."

The team wants to highlight the conflicts and consequences of extracting sand so others might find ways to make the resource more sustainable.

"One thing we can do is better understand the complexity of this under-appreciated issue," Liu said. "And do more systematic and scientific research."

<![CDATA[The Science Of Champagne's 'Pop' Also Can Give Its Vapor An Odd Color]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 09:41:00 -0500
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If you've popped a Champagne cork, you've probably noticed the cloud of white that flows out. But if you're really observant — and the conditions are just right — you might see the cloud turn blue.

When the cork is popped, the CO2 inside the bottle expands, and the temperature drops. When the bottle is cold, the drop can form a thick, white cloud.

SEE MORE: Why You Should Be Diluting Your Whiskey

But at warmer temperatures, there's less of a cloud. Instead, CO2 and water vapor in the bottle are at the perfect density to form blue-tinted ice crystals, creating a thin blue fog.

But when the CO2 runs out, the fog becomes white-gray. It happens in a fraction of a second, so if you're trying this trick at your next party, make sure everyone is watching closely. And maybe have them wear eye protection.

<![CDATA[If Aliens Exist, How Would They Find Earth?]]> Wed, 13 Sep 2017 11:09:00 -0500
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Let's assume for a minute that intelligent extraterrestrials exist and that they're just as curious about the universe as we are. If they were looking for habitable exoplanets, how would they find Earth?

It might be easier than you think. Radio signals have been expanding into space since we first harnessed the technology in the 1900s. We've even purposely broadcast messages directly at other stars in the hopes that aliens are listening. So far, they haven't returned our calls.

And if transmissions don't give us away, our emissions might. Since the mid-1700s, we've been filling the atmosphere with a multitude of greenhouse gases. This pollution could be visible to alien astronomers — in the same way they could detect oxygen in our atmosphere. More emissions would slightly alter our atmospheric makeup, indicating that Earth is habitable and that we're a tech-savvy civilization.

SEE MORE: What Existed Before The Big Bang?

There are also maps to Earth currently gliding through space aboard NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft. If aliens ever intercept and decode it, they'll have a handy set of directions.

Or, extraterrestrials might employ one of our most commonly used methods to find exoplanets — transits. Every time a planet crosses in front of its host star, the star's light dims at regular intervals. One team of researchers plotted out which parts of the sky would have the best view of our solar system and found that out of the thousands of known exoplanets, nine are ideally placed to observe Earth transits.

But even if aliens searching for habitable worlds do happen to spot Earth, it could take upward of thousands of years to make contact.

<![CDATA[France Vows To Help Caribbean Islands After Hurricane Irma]]> Wed, 13 Sep 2017 10:24:00 -0500
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French President Emmanuel Macron pledged 50 million euros to the Caribbean to help with the devastation Hurricane Irma caused.

Macron flew Tuesday to the French territory of St. Martin that was badly damaged in the storm.

Macron's government and other European leaders were criticized for their response and preparedness — or lack thereof — to Hurricane Irma.

Irma was a Category 5 storm when it hit the Caribbean, with winds at 185 miles per hour.

SEE MORE: Irma Leaves Behind Major Crop Damage For Florida Farmers

The government said it'll take roughly three months for water distribution to return to normal. In the meantime, Macron upped the number of forces on French islands in the region.

Macron said "St. Martin will be reborn," and he promised to return to the island to help with the process.

<![CDATA[How Can Cities Protect Against Hurricanes?]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 15:35:00 -0500
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As long as storms have devastated American coastlines, federal and local governments have tried to figure out how to hurricane-proof a city. 

As we've seen after hurricanes in Florida and in Houston, increased urbanization and sea level rise have increased the risk of flooding, now involved in 90 percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. 

SEE MORE: Houston Turns To 'Cajun Navy' And Civilian Fleets To Help With Rescues

Part of the response is just about higher standards for infrastructure and buildings — avoiding construction in areas that are prone to flooding now or will be as sea levels rise in the next few decades and opting instead for higher, drier ground. 

President Obama signed an order mandating those higher standards for public infrastructure projects before President Trump rescinded that order in August

"This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country," Trump said last month. 

Cities can also help nature itself handle natural disasters by maintaining wetlands that have been wiped out by urban sprawl, as millions of acres of concrete have paved over coastal areas that could absorb storm water. During Hurricane Sandy, coastal wetlands saved an estimated $625 million in flood damages

Even more ambitious engineering projects are on the table. That includes lifting entire cities above projected sea level rise — and pumps like Miami's that could buy time for the longer term solutions these cities will need to find. 

<![CDATA[Cassini Spacecraft Gets A 'Goodbye Kiss' Before It Meets Its End]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 13:30:00 -0500
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The Cassini spacecraft got a "goodbye kiss" as it prepares to meet its end.

Cassini made its final flyby of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, on Monday.

The spacecraft's project manager says it's really like Cassini and Titan have been in a long-term relationship.

In the 13 years that Cassini's been studying Saturn and its moons, it's flown by Titan pretty much every month for over a decade.

During those hundreds of passes, Cassini's discovered liquid seas and lakes made of liquid methane. It mapped sand dunes that scientists think are made of solid water ice.

Its gravity measurements unveiled Titan's underground ocean of liquid water, meaning the moon could have a habitable environment.

SEE MORE: What We Know About The Secretive Space Plane SpaceX Just Launched

Cassini even launched the first human-made object to land in the distant outer solar system. And it landed on, you guessed it, Titan.

But NASA didn't call Cassini's final flyby a "goodbye kiss" just to be cheeky.

The phrase relates to Titan's gravity pushing the craft toward its final mission — a dive straight into Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini will transmit as much data as possible before it burns up.

NASA notes if Cassini's mission didn't end this way, there's a chance the craft could eventually crash into Titan and potentially contaminate future studies.

<![CDATA[Humanity's Code: Power of Numbers]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0500
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Humanity's Code. Sponsored by: Cincinnati Children's 

One of the most stunning displays in the natural world is a murmuration. Seen up close, the movements of the starlings appear chaotic, disjointed.But step back and you see beautiful order—form and function. Patterns emerge from the noise. Individual members acting as one. 

So is the case with the human genome.

So the beauty of humans are that we're complex no one person is the same as any other and that's really reflected when you're trying to do science is that although we say we're studying a disease we're really studying individual people within a disease. It would be a lie to say that genetics is not complicated, it is, but we're beginning to find areas where we know enough that we can find situations where we can take action to avert or ameliorate disease.

DNA's four key building blocks (A,C,T & G for short) are found in every cell of our bodies. The information within those building blocks plays a key role in the orchestration of life's processes in ways medical science is only just beginning to understand.

The most challenging data right now in terms of its size is genomic data, and that genomic data at its essence is just 4 letters but each person has 3 billion of these letters and when you spread that out it's a lot of data and it overwhelms us and so we need better ways to use that information to find more insights. 

Collecting and analyzing all of this genetic data is known as biomedical informatics.

So you hear methods like machine learning and artificial intelligence. The new buzz word now is deep learning. These are all computer science techniques that can look at different types of data and find patterns and associations that make sense. So we're kind of reducing the complexity of the problem. 

Making sense of all of this data requires massive amounts of computing power and creative ways of looking at it. Billions of data points are translated into visual tools like network association diagrams and heatmaps. From these tools, overlaps and patterns begin to emerge, which help direct researchers to key discoveries. 

The data that is generated is so huge, it's difficult for any individual group to keep up-to-date. So here for example is an elliptical known as a gene, and these are the different functions or what they do in the body. So others using it, not just us from India, China, UK, everywhere. 

Thanks to a number of advances in technology, pooling this data will help forge new paths of discovery related to the genetic causes of disease.

So it's really quite amazing the improvements in the communication industry have really propelled science forward. Collaboration, it's the name of the game. Throughout the world to really see the genomic variability and understand its impact on disease requires larger groups of patients, working with larger groups of researchers, getting larger data sets together.

One path to discovery these researchers are taking relies on the power of numbers.

Many of the diseases we see at children's hospitals are very rare so we don't have enough patients to really study them very effectively. If there are seven, or eight, or nine, or 10 thousand rare genetic disorders that only affect 50 or 100 children each year, how are we going to help those children? We need a new model. 

Sequencing and analyzing the genomes of large populations requires unprecedented collaboration. So leaders from the nation's top children's hospitals formed a completely new kind of partnership.

It became very obvious that one institution would never have enough children in any one particular disease to really understand the genetics of a disease or genetic therapies for a disease. Therefore, a couple of years ago, Boston Children's Hospital, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Cincinnati Childrens decided to try and pull their efforts together and create what we call the Genomic Research and Innovation Network. 

GRIN's three participating hospitals are focused on sharing their genetic data sets to help accelerate new medical discoveries. 

GRIN represents this incredible effort to break down the barriers across three institutions who are working towards the same goals under the same mission. To improve the health of children at a much greater pace. And we've gotten researchers across these different places to start working with each other and their sharing data in ways we've never really seen before. It's really been terrific. We believe the GRIN network will help to set standards by which we'll be able to involve patients and their families in genomic research, be able to conduct large scale research, set the standards for how genomic research could be conducted across the country and eventually be scalable to many other children's hospitals around the country. Our vision can we share all the data that we have across thousands of rare disorders that we see. 

These partnerships will help drive new discoveries for genomic medicine. More importantly, GRIN will help move discoveries forward at an unprecedented rate.

How can we take the health care system and use it to learn and accelerate discoveries, accelerate care improvements, make lives better for all of our patients. It always starts with the patient, it always should come back to the patient. Patients are really participants, their co-producing solutions with us. So these efficiencies, and these alignments, creates a resource unique in pediatrics.

This work will help doctors diagnose and treat conditions earlier in childhood and even use an individual's genes to more accurately prescribe medicine. Ultimately, we can improve the lives of children through the power of numbers found deep within Humanity's Code.

That's what we as pediatricians want to see. We want to see those incredible turn of events so that children are living longer and healthier lives, their our most important citizens. 

<![CDATA[This New Helmet Could Be A Game Changer In Football Safety]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 19:37:00 -0500
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It’s the start of football season, which for some means beer, bets and tailgates.

But the season can also bring major health risks for players, including concussions. Now, one company hopes to change that.

Vicis, a startup out of Seattle, created a new helmet that absorbs some of the impact taken from blows during play. It's called the Zero1.

The NFL tested 33 different types of helmets. Each was supposed to soften the head impacts that could cause concussions in players.

The Zero1 was most effective. And Vicis says 70 NFL players have started wearing the helmets.

SEE MORE: A New Football League Hopes To Be A Faster, Safer Version Of The NFL

Several Kansas City Chiefs wore the helmet in their season opener, and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was even an initial investor in Vicis. Wide receiver Chris Conley said about a hit he took while wearing helmet: "I mean, I felt the hit. But I wonder what it would have felt like in an old helmet."

A safer helmet could give football organizations a much-needed lifeline — the sport's concussion problem has been getting a lot of attention recently, and there was even a movie about the discovery of the problem. The degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was recently found in 99 percent of deceased former NFL players tested.

CTE has been linked to a slew of problems including dementia, depression, suicidal actions and loss of impulse control. In 2009, for the first time ever, the NFL acknowledged that concussions can have lasting effects on players.

Participation in Pop Warner youth football leagues dropped by almost 10 percent over the next two years. Youth football participation in general dropped by 27 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to a analysis of USA Football statistics.

At $1,500, The Zero1 costs three to five times as much as existing helmets. And even at that price point, the Chiefs' team doctor David Choa says no helmet can eliminate concussions completely. But some football enthusiasts believe the Zero1 is a step in the right direction. 

<![CDATA[This Hurricane Season Is As Unusual As The Huge Storms Themselves]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 18:37:00 -0500
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Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are in a league of their own. Irma is the strongest Atlantic storm on record, and the two are the only pair of Atlantic hurricanes to record wind speeds of more than 150 mph at the same time. 

But the weirdness doesn't stop with these two storms. They're only part of this year's unusually active hurricane season.

The season normally starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. But this year marked the first time since 2003 that it started in April, with Tropical Storm Arlene. 

SEE MORE: For Florida's Endangered Wildlife, Hurricanes Come With The Territory

NOAA did expect "above-normal" hurricane activity this year. But by Sunday, just before the season's halfway point, there had already been 11 named storms and six hurricanes. That's a lot of activity for the Atlantic, which averaged 12 named storms and six hurricanes per season between 1981 and 2010.

And we've only just started what NOAA calls the "season within the season," which is an eight-week period when tropical cyclone activity is most active and dangerous. Seventy-eight percent of tropical storm days and 96 percent of major hurricane days happen during this time.

Experts say we could have as many as 19 tropical storms by the end of November — tying it for the third most active Atlantic season on record.

<![CDATA[For Florida's Endangered Wildlife, Hurricanes Come With The Territory]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 16:40:00 -0500
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As people assess Hurricane Irma's damage in south Florida, some are worried how the region's unique animal residents fared.

Florida is home to 50 endangered species; some of those are only found around the Florida Keys. For example, there are fewer than a thousand Key deer left, and they all live on some two dozen low-lying islands.

And while endangered species might be federally protected, there's not much we can do for them when a hurricane comes through. Staff at the National Key Deer Refuge evacuated and had to leave the deer behind.

SEE MORE: Florida Already Had A Lot Of Mosquitoes, And Irma Could Make It Worse

But wild animals are used to bad weather — even really bad storms. It's the same reason zoos in Florida didn't evacuate: Animals tend to stay put during a hurricane anyway. Decades of storms haven't wiped any of them out — not even the critically endangered Florida panther.

And wildlife officials point out these animals adapted to their habitats; otherwise, they wouldn't live there. For Key deer living on an island, that means knowing how to swim.

<![CDATA[Getting A Fix: Mapping Drug Overdoses]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 07:00:00 -0500
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"Getting a Fix" is an in-depth series that explores the opioid epidemic gripping the United States.

Jeff Beeson is deputy director of the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Beeson's team has a way for first responders to enter overdose data in real time, to help bridge the data gap plaguing the opioid epidemic.

"We have an epidemic on our hands, and we really need tools in the hands of public health and safety to fight this," Beeson said. "The general consensus from a lot of our public health partners is that there is a consistent lack of real-time data, not only in their respective county or city, but across jurisdiction."

There are 28 HIDTA programs across the country. The one Beeson helps oversee connects officials in Maryland; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and parts of West Virginia as they work to combat drug trafficking.

Beeson said the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, or ODMAP, is meant to ensure public health and safety officials have real-time data to respond to an overdose threat or spike.

"So if I get a spike alert from my neighboring county, I know I'm going to be hit in the next eight or 10 hours," Beeson said. "I can make sure that my people are out in the field, are out in the community. I can make sure the hospitals are aware. I can make sure my officers, my EMS and my providers all have Narcan or naloxone and are ready to deploy. Those are the important things that real-time data are going to help you with, and you are going to be much more effective in mobilizing your response."

First responders use the drug naloxone to revive someone from an overdose. It can be administered through the nose, muscles or veins. Narcan is a brand of naloxone.

Anne Arundel County, Maryland — which is between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — is one of the pilot areas for ODMAP.

"Yeah, now we are getting live data, it's coming in, so within usually four of the five hours of a fatal overdose," said Lt. Michael Ashburn, commander of the narcotics and special investigations section for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

SEE MORE: There's A New War On Drugs At The Center Of America's Heroin Epidemic

Ashburn said ODMAP is "very simple" to use. Here's how it works.

First responders arrive on the scene. As some medical personnel tend to the patient, others can log in to the ODMAP website, where they can pick one of six options. The information, like GPS mapping, is saved to the database, and other members can use it.

The system doesn't collect victims' personal information, and it's free for first responders to use. 

"This gives us a snapshot, a quick picture of where our focus needs to be," Ashburn said. "Real-time data that we are able to pull up on the map and find an area that may have had a spike that we can focus on that area to concentrate investigations."

Beeson said the system was designed to be easy to use.

"We know how difficult it is to be a first responder," he said. "We know how many priorities our police officers have. We know how stressful the jobs of our firefighters and EMS can be, so we wanted to make the system that simple."

The program was successful during tests. Beeson says he thinks the data could eventually let first responders predict patterns in overdoses.

But that can depend on the number of officials using ODMAP. Right now, first responders aren't required to use it, so getting every state and jurisdiction on board with a voluntary system will take time.

As of September, the program is active in 74 counties across 19 states.

Beeson said he and his team will continue to spread the word about ODMAP, state by state, municipality by municipality. They have just one goal.

"This is: Let's share our data; let's make sure that we are getting the resources in the hands of those who are in the best position to respond so we can safeguard our communities," Beeson said. "Last thing we want is for anybody else to die. That's really what this is. We are trying to save lives."

<![CDATA[Florida Already Had A Lot Of Mosquitoes, And Irma Could Make It Worse]]> Sun, 10 Sep 2017 14:32:00 -0500
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Irma, the strongest hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic, will leave a lot of devastation in her path. 

Part of that destruction will come from storm surge, rainfall and flooding — and that water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

Mosquito eggs need water to hatch. Some species require standing water, but others prefer floodwater. Irma is likely to provide plenty of both. 

At best, mosquitoes are just a nuisance, but they can also carry dangerous and even deadly diseases. And the bugs thrive in Florida.

The state is warm and wet, and the southern part of the state, where Irma hit first, is home to the Everglades, a huge swamp. 

SEE MORE: Climate Change Might Make Intense Hurricanes Like Harvey More Common

Mosquitoes in the state carry at least nine different diseases including Zika, malaria and West Nile virus.

Parts of Florida, like Miami, are incredibly prone to high water. Rising sea levels have caused a phenomenon called "sunny day" flooding, where the high tide can cause floods.

In recent years Miami has been working to raise its streets and install other defenses against the rising ocean.

And Miami is already having a bad mosquito season. Storms in July blew in billions of the insects from the Everglades.

People of Florida will likely have time to prepare for any mosquito invasion Hurricane Irma brings.

After Hurricane Katrina, researchers expected to see a boom in certain mosquito-borne illnesses, but they found the high winds and storm surge actually washed most mosquitoes away.

But a year later, scientists saw a two-fold increase in West Nile Virus incidence in the areas that were flooded during Katrina.

Texas is already prepping for potential mosquito problems from Hurricane Harvey. One expert told The Atlantic the mosquito population that was washed away by the storm could come back this year.

There is some good news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people are most likely to see nuisance mosquitoes after these storms, not the disease-carrying ones.

<![CDATA[Mexico Mourns Victims Of Deadly Earthquake, Braces For Reconstruction]]> Sat, 09 Sep 2017 14:57:00 -0500
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After an earthquake left at least 61 people dead and 250 wounded, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto declared three days of national mourning.

On Friday, Peña Nieto visited Juchitán — one of the cities most impacted by Thursday's earthquake. As of Saturday, officials reported 36 people dead in that town. Peña Nieto ordered flags to fly at half-staff out of respect for the community.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the earthquake at 8.1 magnitude, making it one of the strongest quakes ever recorded in Mexico.

SEE MORE: Mexico Is Now The World's Deadliest Conflict Zone After Syria

As rescue teams search for more survivors in Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas, other people are bracing themselves for reconstruction. A state senator from Chiapas told The Daily Beast, "We could be looking at more than 10,000 people facing crisis."

The earthquake destroyed almost 430 homes in Chiapas alone.

<![CDATA[Tigers Are Returning To A Country Where They Were Once Extinct]]> Sat, 09 Sep 2017 11:33:00 -0500
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Roughly 70 years ago, tigers went extinct in Kazakhstan. Now the country is trying to change that.

Kazakhstan's government announced it plans to reintroduce tigers into its ecosystem. If it works, Kazakhstan will be the first country to bring tigers back to a region where they've been extinct for so long.

But the tigers likely won't be back for a while. Authorities need to prepare the Ili-Balkhash region by reintroducing the tigers' natural prey so they have something to eat when they return. The tigers probably won't arrive until at least 2025.

The effort will be part of the Tx2 initiative, which aims to double the world's number of wild tigers by 2022.

SEE MORE: NCAA Tigers Are Teaming Up To Protect Tigers In The Wild

Kazakhstan's minister of agriculture said the country was "honored to be the first country in Central Asia to implement such an important and large-scale project."

The World Wildlife Fund says a combination of poaching and habitat loss drove tigers out of Kazakhstan, though it's one of many places where tiger populations struggled.

Over a century ago, there were more than 100,000 wild tigers around the world. Now it's believed there are fewer than 4,000.

<![CDATA[Like Humans, Parrots Eat Nutrient Supplements ... But Theirs Are Clay]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 16:46:00 -0500
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When parrots in the wild want to grow, they do as humans do, and take their own kind of special supplements. Only difference? Parrots get those nutrients from dirt.

Researchers in Peru observed parrots for more than 20,000 hours and noticed the birds practiced geophagy — the intentional eating of earth.

At first, the researchers thought clay was a sort of detox treatment for the parrots; they'll sometimes eat toxic plants when options are limited. But the team found the birds actually ate more clay when safe food was abundant.

SEE MORE: Before Birds Could Fly, Dinosaurs Had To Learn To Hop

Instead, scientists found that parrots' peak earth-eating was during mating season and suggested the clay could contain minerals for successful mating.

They also said parrots became especially reliant on sodium-rich clay when they fed hatchlings. Sodium is a big player in nerve function and muscle contractions and can provide the extra energy needed to feed young birds.

But just because these findings were consistent for parrots doesn't mean humans will reap the same benefits. We usually get our fair share of sodium from our normal diets — no earth needed.

<![CDATA[Do We Need A Hurricane Category 6?]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 15:46:00 -0500
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Hurricane Irma is one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record, and you might have heard rumors that it intensified to a Category 6 storm — except Category 6 doesn't exist.

Meteorologists still measure storms with the same five-category wind-speed scale they've refined since the '70s. The scale has four categories for storms with winds between 74 mph and 156 mph. Any hurricane stronger than that is considered Category 5 — no matter how much faster its winds get.

In recent years, some researchers have discussed the possibility of adding a sixth category. Mathematically, it makes some sense.

If you go by the average wind speeds of each category, there's room at the top for a whole new group of intense storms like Irma. It had sustained winds up to 185 mph for a while.

And these hurricanes aren't necessarily outliers. Climate projections show tropical cyclones are likely to get stronger as global temperatures increase. Warmer water in the Atlantic basin could feed more energy into storms.

SEE MORE: A Warming Climate Will Make It Harder To Stay Healthy

But the National Hurricane Center isn't considering expansion of the scale right now, because of Irma or otherwise.

According to Robert Simpson, who developed the hurricane scale, it stops being useful to divide storms into more categories once you get past a certain point. There's not a meaningful difference between 155 mph winds and 185 mph winds when both are expected to cause "catastrophic damage."

<![CDATA[Opioids Provide Another Clue As To Why Men Are Working Less In US]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 15:08:00 -0500
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Economists are on a mission to figure out why men aren't working as much as they used to.

It's a complicated problem to be sure: Everything from work automation to video games might be somewhat to blame.

But a new study published by the Brookings Institution suggests opioids might be a large part of the problem.

The study looked at opioid use across the United States, county by county, from 1999 to 2015. It found that in counties with lower workforce participation, opioid prescriptions were higher.

The study estimates the rise in painkiller prescriptions could be to blame for about 20 percent of the drop in men's workforce participation during those years. 

Nearly half of the men surveyed who were out of the labor force reported taking pain medication daily — including over-the-counter medication. And 40 percent said pain keeps them from having a job.

SEE MORE: Getting A Fix: Preventing Opioid Addiction

Of course, just because there's a correlation doesn't necessarily mean scientists have found a cause. But this study lends a bit of weight to something economists at Goldman Sachs have been saying for a few months now about the workforce and opioids in general.

And the Federal Reserve's Beige Book has begun citing workers' inability to pass drug tests as a big reason some places couldn't find workers.

Again, this is likely one factor among many: Past research has blamed video games, higher rates of college attendance and technology's tendency to automate low-skill jobs out of existence.

But, the Brookings study suggests pain intervention therapies and expanded health insurance coverage might help stabilize the workforce.

<![CDATA[Massive Earthquake Off Mexican Coast Leaves At Least 58 Dead]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 08:43:00 -0500
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One of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Mexico shook the country's southern coast early Friday.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the massive quake measured in at 8.1 magnitude.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said it was an 8.2 magnitude tremor. Either way, it's one of the strongest earthquakes on record in Mexico.

The USGS has noted a number of aftershocks as well, some of them over 5.0 in magnitude. 

SEE MORE: How The Strongest Earthquakes Can Rewrite Our Maps

As of Friday evening, officials say the quake has killed at least 58 people and injured 200 more. The USGS has issued a red alert, meaning it expects "high casualties and extensive damage."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center confirmed the quake triggered a tsunami, prompting warnings in several countries. The center confirmed waves 3 feet over the normal tide level already hit the Mexican coastline.

The last Mexican earthquake around this size hit in 1985. The 8.1 magnitude quake killed more than 9,500 people and caused major damage in Mexico City.

<![CDATA[Our Sun Just Unleashed Its Strongest Solar Flare In A Decade]]> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 16:50:00 -0500
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On Wednesday, NASA recorded two massive solar flares — one was the biggest flare in 12 years. They were so powerful, they kept some radios from working for about an hour.

The two solar flares shot out of a sunspot that's seven Earths wide and nine Earths tall. Astronomers identified them as "X-class flares," which generate as much energy as millions of hydrogen bombs and emit enough radiation to interfere with high-frequency radio waves here on Earth.

Solar flares occur when the sun's magnetic field suddenly releases energy, like a snapping rubber band. It sends huge amounts of energy and light into space.

SEE MORE: Our Sun Is Nothing Special — But That's A Good Thing

The event is somewhat surprising because the sun is nearing a period of low activity it cycles through about once every 11 years.

But there's been quite a bit of activity on the star's surface. The same sunspot sent five "sizable" solar flares total into the atmosphere since Monday.

Earth's magnetic field shields us from the most dangerous effects of these giant explosions, but scientists think the flares might still trigger a geomagnetic storm. This could disrupt satellites, GPS navigation and even create auroras seen as far south as Ohio or Indiana.

<![CDATA[These Planes Fly Into Hurricanes To Study Them]]> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 12:42:00 -0500
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It's best to avoid flying an airplane into severe weather. But some pilots have to because the best information about a hurricane is found inside it.

The U.S. Air Force and NOAA provide on-location hurricane data for the National Hurricane Center. Missions can last up to 11 hours and span almost 3,500 miles. The team measures things like the hurricane's pressure center, wind speeds and strength.

Each organization uses planes equipped with advanced weather instruments to study different aspects of hurricanes. The Air Force's "hurricane hunters" fly a Lockheed WC-130J to measure wind, pressure, temperature and humidity.

NOAA's Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft fly around storms to take measurements of the atmosphere, Earth and its environment. Its Gulfstream IV-SP flies above hurricanes to collect atmospheric data of the storm itself.

SEE MORE: Deaths, Destruction Reported As Hurricane Irma Pummels The Caribbean

But the aircraft have their drawbacks — namely size. The planes don't always fly fast enough so researchers on board can track the hurricane's changes minute by minute.

And, the planes are beginning to show their age. The aircraft were first introduced in the late '90s. NOAA's Orion aircraft would've been grounded in 2019, but $35 million in upgrades will extend their lifespan to at least 2030.

Drones might be a viable replacement; they're generally low-cost and can fly at low altitudes where other aircraft can't. But the technology is still being tested. Until then, these fearless pilots will continue flying right to the source to gather life-saving information.

<![CDATA[What We Know About The Secretive Space Plane SpaceX Just Launched]]> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 09:22:00 -0500
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The U.S. Air Force launched its fifth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on Thursday, but the long-running project is still mysterious.

We do know the X-37 has been to space four times since April 2010 and that it spends a long time in orbit every time it flies. Its last mission lasted 718 days, or almost two years.

But there's no crew aboard the autonomous ship, and its payloads are mostly classified. The Air Force usually says it's running experiments to test new satellite technology. This time, that includes a sophisticated heat sink that could help electronics run harder and longer in space.

Some experts speculate X-37 flights might be for developing surveillance and reconnaissance tools. And a heat sink like that could be useful on a high-end spy satellite.

SEE MORE: SpaceX Just Launched A Top-Secret Spy Satellite

The X-37 has hitched previous rides to space on a United Launch Alliance rocket. But for this launch, the Air Force went with SpaceX. The private commercial carrier started doing military contract work in 2016, when it won its first contract to carry a GPS satellite for the Air Force.

While we don't know how long the X-37 will stay in orbit, launching on a SpaceX rocket means the mission will eventually pass a spaceflight milestone: It'll be the first time nearly every part of a rocket that left Earth will land itself.

<![CDATA[These Major Fashion Brands Are Banning Size 0 Requirements For Models]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 21:22:00 -0500
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Major fashion brands are uniting to improve the well-being of models. 

Luxury fashion groups Kering and LVMH — which together own brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Gucci — wrote a charter to make sure their models work under safe conditions.

The charter bans size 0 casting requirements and requires agencies to prove models are healthy enough to work. On set, brands are also now required to provide psychologists or therapists for models while they're at work.

Other new rules in the charter guarantee models the right to safe accommodations and require they "explicitly accept" assignments that involve nudity or changes to their appearance.

These new rules come months after a pair of casting directors reportedly left 150 models waiting in a dark stairwell for hours during Paris Fashion Week. The incident was called "sadistic and cruel."

SEE MORE: Magnetic Pulses Could Be A Key In Treating Anorexia

Balenciaga — which is owned by Kering — fired the accused casting directors and wrote a formal apology to affected modeling agencies. The fashion brand also vowed to ensure respectful working conditions in the future.

Beyond industry abuse, Kering and LVMH's new charter also comes months after France's ban on "unhealthily thin" models went into effect. The French health ministry said it hopes the move will fight eating disorders and "inaccessible ideals of beauty." 

Plenty of studies from the past couple years have suggested that exposure to super-thin models in the media has a negative impact on women's mental health. And in a recent study about the pressure on models to lose weight, an overwhelming majority of the 85 models in the study were medically underweight.

More than half the models who participated in that study said they were told by someone in the modeling industry to lose weight or change their body shape.

<![CDATA[Some Scientists Think Zika Could Be Used To Treat Brain Cancer]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 16:21:00 -0500
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A virus deemed a global health emergency just last year might be able to treat brain cancer. 

A new study released Tuesday details what happened when scientists used the Zika virus to attack cancerous brain cells in mice. The virus targeted cancerous cells while largely ignoring healthy brain cells.

Researchers from the study observed two groups of mice who had glioblastomas, which are highly malignant and aggressive brain tumors. They found the mice that received the Zika virus lived longer and had smaller tumors after just one week.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to microcephaly, a condition associated with brain underdevelopment, in babies born to infected women. Outbreaks were reported in Brazil in 2015 when thousands of babies were born with abnormally small heads and other brain defects. 

SEE MORE: Zika's Untold War: Chain Reaction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 5,000 Zika cases in the U.S. between 2015 and August 2017. It warned pregnant women against traveling to risky areas back in 2016.

It will take a while for human trials to begin, but future subjects would have to introduce a virus that caused international devastation into their bodies — on purpose. Researchers have tested the virus in human cell samples but say it may operate differently in a living person.

<![CDATA[Astronaut Shatters More Records With Her Latest Spaceflight]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:09:00 -0500
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After 288 days floating around the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is firmly back on land. 

This was Whitson's third long-term spaceflight. She's spent 665 days in space — more than any other U.S. astronaut. 

She set that record back in May. Astronaut Jeff Williams previously held the record with 534 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes. 

That wasn't the only record Whitson set while on board the ISS this time around. 

She brought her total number of spacewalks up to 10 — the most of any female astronaut. And Whitson set a new record for the most accumulated time spacewalking by a woman: 60 hours and 21 minutes. 

SEE MORE: Here's What Elon Musk Wants Astronauts To Wear On The SpaceX Dragon

Whitson, who at age 57 is the oldest woman ever to fly in space, is also the only female astronaut to have commanded the ISS twice. 

Whitson is currently in Houston, where Johnson Space Center is located. She wouldn't confirm if she plans to go back to the ISS, but did say she hopes to continue working on the spaceflight programs. 

After nine months in space, Whitson named two things she's looking forward to: pizza and toilets that flush. We don't really want to think too long about that second one.

<![CDATA[NASA's Juno Might've Found Where Jupiter's Powerful Auroras Come From]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 12:09:00 -0500
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Like Earth, Jupiter generates some extraordinary light shows, aka auroras. But what exactly causes the powerful ones on Jupiter has been a mystery — until now.

Experts thought Jupiter's auroras happened when solar wind pushed accelerating electrons directly onto the atmosphere, similar to what happens during Earth's most intense auroras. 

But observations from NASA's Juno spacecraft show the charged particles didn't come directly from the solar wind but instead were scattered and trapped in its magnetic field.

SEE MORE: The Newest, Up-Close Photos Of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

On Earth, this process leads to less exciting light shows. But Jupiter is so much larger and more energetic that even the more passive process causes auroras far stronger than any on Earth.

This finding adds to our understanding of how different planets interact with surrounding space weather, but this is only one of the first direct measurements of Jupiter's aurora. Astronomers say they need more data to understand exactly how it behaves.

<![CDATA[Researchers Skeptical About Findings From Landmark Gene-Editing Study]]> Tue, 05 Sep 2017 17:14:00 -0500
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Earlier this year, a team of scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR to remove a deadly genetic mutation from a human embryo. But some genetic scientists are casting serious doubts on whether that method was as successful as the study authors claimed.

In the original experiment, researchers fertilized eggs with sperm from men with a heart condition. The scientists edited out the genetic markers of the disease and inserted healthy DNA into the fertilized embryo. They said the male genome rebuilt itself with healthy sequences from the female genes.

But reproductive biologists say it's not clear how mutations in sperm could be fixed with an egg's genetic makeup. Those genes sit at opposite ends of an egg cell after it's fertilized, and it would be difficult for CRISPR to work across such a large distance. 

SEE MORE: A Gene-Editing Milestone May Mean Fewer Hereditary Issues Someday

The embryos might not have used genetic contributions from sperm at all. Critics of the experiment noted that paternal genomes were only present in a third of stem cells from genetically edited embryos. 

And it's also possible the mutation didn't show up when researchers were checking their work if they deleted a lot of extra DNA while they tried to remove that single faulty gene. This could also cause more genetic damage than anticipated. 

Whatever the case, the gene-editing debate is set to get louder again. The authors of the original study say they'll make a formal response to critics "in a matter of weeks."

<![CDATA[Humanity's Code: New Horizons in Medicine]]> Tue, 05 Sep 2017 13:14:00 -0500
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Humanity's Code. Sponsored by: Cincinnati Children's 

Big breakthroughs take time. Long before any cures are found, decades of research are often needed to simply understand a disease. Now, more than any other point in history, researchers are poised to make major breakthroughs in genomic medicine. 

The more we learn, the less we know. The horizon is forever receding, but nevertheless the information that we do gather can be very helpful and while I see many tragedies I also see amazing success stories. 

Genomics is a single word but it encompasses so many aspects of what medicine is trying to do to help people. That genome, which is one genome, is hardwired, is being used countless different ways all through development, all through life, and every moment that we're exposed to our environment. But when you think about medicine generally, like conquering diabetes, the development of early vaccines for polio, you never go from your first swing at the bat to a home run. You hit a lot of singles and doubles, and for a lot of genetic diseases right now I think we're getting a pretty good batting average, but we're not power hitters yet. 

Today, gene editing technology is helping advance discoveries in medicine — discoveries out of reach just five years ago. These tools are helping unlock new paths for research and, ultimately, cures for disease.

In addition to the revolution in stem cell technology there's also been tremendous advances in genome editing so the ability to first of all sequence all of our genomes and understand where potential mutations might be, but also using new technology called CRISPR/CAS9

CRISPR/Cas-9 technology allows researchers to quickly and accurately produce genetically modified mice. These mice can then be used to learn how genetic diseases affect the body and how those genes react to new types of medicine.

The nice thing about CRISPR is that it is so easy. Now we understand the CRISPR more. There are new versions of the CRISPR coming out constantly, so I'm sure we'll be getting better and better in the future to the point we can use it safely in patients. It's all new all the time. Every week we're doing something different. So it's cool cause I feel like I get to learn a lot of new techniques and we're always just coming up with a new approach to a different problem.  

Driven by the CRISPR revolution, this lab's work in genetic engineering will positively affect the future health of children around the world. 

Probably cystic fibrosis is the best example, there are more than perhaps 2000 mutations in one gene. Simply removing a base pair on a child's cell that would totally restore his cystic fibrosis turning him into a child that doesn't have to go to the hospital 3 times a year would be a God send. It would be a wonderful thing for that family and that patient. So this gives us an optimism that we never could have conceived of 20 years ago. 

Now, this gene-editing technology is helping scientists understand and treat disease in human organs in ways we could only imagine a few decades ago.

You know here at the children's hospital unfortunately we see alot patients that come through with congenital defects of organ development and in order to understand the genetics behind how that occurs we need to understand how organs form in the first place. So I think one of the most exciting early discovery projects here is our Organoid Center. We call them organs in a dish, because they're very small maybe one to 10 millimeters in size but they do everything. 

Starting with tissue in a lab dish, scientists are learning how to coax small numbers of human stem cells into forming complex, three-dimensional tissues that mimic the functions of entire organs. 

Each of these are about a couple millimeters in diameter and it's human intestinal tissue that's been grown from stem cells. And this takes about a month to grow these. They didn't set out to try to generate these organoids. They were trying to just see if they could make human intestinal tissue in sort of a layer on the dish and then those cells innately tried to self organize and made these little spheroids and organoids and that's the thing that just blows your mind. To cure that child by genetically engineering from a single cell to form a liver, or a kidney, or stomach, or an intestine, and now that's within our grasp. So you wait 40 years for these new horizons and sometimes you're very fortunate to get to see them come into view within the span of just one career. 

Today, growing organoids in a dish can help scientists safely test new drugs without having to rely as much on animals. Someday, this groundbreaking work may also allow researchers to grow full-sized replacement tissues that could reduce or even eliminate the need for organ transplant waiting lists.

I think it's still important to keep an eye on the long term view that the basic research we might not understand what the use is immediately, in the long term some of the serendipitous discoveries are the most important ones. Discovery is a bit of a high, and you just go from one discovery to the next, one discovery leads to another question and ultimately just trying to follow that line of questioning. 

The future we can predict will be filled with medical discoveries that will not only teach us about who we are as individuals but also what we all have in common within humanity's code.

It is humanity's code, but its a code that fortunately we don't understand that well yet and probably never will so we'll always have the mystery of what it means to be human and I think of the code as reminding us both of what we know and what we don't know and bringing us together around that.


<![CDATA[Humanity's Code: Medicine Gets Personal]]> Tue, 05 Sep 2017 12:25:00 -0500
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Humanity's Code. Sponsored by: Cincinnati Children's

The human genome is vastly complex. So we use metaphors to help describe it in ways that are easier to understand: A blueprint. A recipe. A computer program or The Holy Grail. But when it comes to how our genes really work, none of those descriptions are accurate. 

So to me, all of these metaphors share the same shortcoming: they render the genes as the commander in chief. That is, genes determine the outcome. And genes surely play an important role, but they are not what's calling the shots. The way biology works is that it's always, always an interaction, an interaction between many parts. Genes are one of those parts.

So, rather than looking to DNA as a source of absolute answers, we can use the data from our own individual genomes as guideposts to help make better decisions for medical care.

What does a patient want to know when they're first diagnosed with a disease, and they're thinking about a therapeutic option? They want to know. "What's going to happen to me?" Right? What if I take a drug A versus drug B?

And the data is staggering how many people a year actually die in the hospital from unintended side effects of medicine? It is at times the fourth leading cause of death in the hospital.

Much like a fingerprint, your DNA is unique to you. And many of the differences within your genes can give an idea of how your own body, organs and cells might react to different medications.

Often trying to find that medication is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And what genetics does, is that it actually removes some of that hay, which makes finding the needle easier. It doesn't actually tell you which medication will work. It actually tells you which medications are less likely to work.

So, in 2006, AssureX Health was formed, driven by patented technology invented by Cincinnati Children's and the Mayo Clinic. This technology uses the data from genetic markers to help determine the right medications for patients.

Sometimes, based on their experience, doctors can get it right. About half the times a patient begins to get better on the medication that's selected. But the other half of the time, the patient doesn't.

When you walk into a doctor's office there may be five, ten, in our case, fifty-five different medications a doctor could choose from. And they don't know which medication is most appropriate for you, or which one you should avoid that might cause adverse events.

And it can be very difficult for the patient and the clinician.

And it takes the sort of "well let's try this" guess work out of it, and gives us a really firm basis for therapeutic decisions.

When it comes to our health, doctors can use the data to get better at managing the potential of you having an adverse reaction to a medication.

How can we use our DNA to help? Picking medications is a great place to start, because we know about the medications and we know what pathways they stimulate and we know how they get broken down by the body. So we know what genes to look at. So it's a low hanging fruit, but it's a fruit that's going to impact millions and millions of patients right away.

Now, the way doctors make decisions when prescribing medicine is changing, thanks to our own personal genetic information.

So a patient in their doctor's office can perform their own cheek swab. We then process that DNA and within 36 hours, we present that information in a very simple way. Green, yellow, red. Medications in the green category are most genetically appropriate for that patient. Red medications are the opposite, and yellow medications are in the middle.

The doctor can pick one of these green or yellow medications, pick the right dose and phone it into the pharmacy. So on Monday, you came in the doctor's office. By Wednesday, you'll have a precision prescription for you.

What has really propelled it has been the technology for gene sequencing that now has reduced the cost. It is a technology that is, within the grasp of many insurers and insurance companies.

Precision medicine tests like this have shown that patients are more than twice as likely to respond positively to a medication they take the first time, compared to those who don't take the test at all. 

And so when we give a genetic result, it's not a perfect result. It says something is less likely to work, or something is more likely to work. You know often times we look at things like cancer and what we die of, what's more important to me, is what we live with every single day, for the 50 to 80 to 90 years that we hope to live for.

These simple, low-cost tests have already helped over half a million patients.

The key is to recognize again, that this is the start of a discussion. And if you're seeing a psychiatrist, or you're seeing a family practice doctor, or you're seeing an internist, ask the question:  "Am I on a drug where there's a genetic contribution?" If you're getting success and your life is good, you don't have to ask the question. But if you're not getting success, and you're going drug after drug, and you're just having side-effects, or not getting success with the medicine, it empowers you try and look for another reason on why am I not getting success with my medicines?

So we have a long way to go, but doctors are starting to realize now, that this is becoming the new standard of care.

Remember, drugs fail. People don't fail.

Dosing medicine accurately is already difficult for adults. So what happens when the patient is too young to talk? Now, this innovative work is giving babies a voice. Precision medicine can now help pre-term babies in need of intensive care by giving doctors a guide for more accurate dosing of pain medications.

So I think from a clinical standpoint, the biggest challenge is there is no one-size-fits-all for each baby. And in a very complex system, you having an extra tool really helps individualize dosing for that baby.

And so instead of a reactive system—we're very reactive in medicine—we can make a proactive system because once you see that the patient is deteriorating, or something is changing, you can anticipate. If you can anticipate, you can intervene before the bad stuff happens. I think this type of technology will improve our ability to truly do precision dosing, individualized precision dosing.

Doing what we can to take care of our sickest and most vulnerable patients in the hospital, really helping their families, and then getting these babies home to them, to their parents and families is really our biggest priority.

Right now, precision medicine already shows great promise to positively affect our health, from the moment of birth through end of life. And far into the future, scientists will continue to find even more ways to transform medicine by mining ever deeper into Humanity's Code.

<![CDATA[Getting A Fix: Preventing Opioid Addiction]]> Tue, 05 Sep 2017 07:07:00 -0500
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Doctors are emphasizing alternative ways to treat pain after years of using opioid painkillers, which some say led to the growth of the opioid epidemic.

"We did this to ourselves. About 15 years ago, there was a big push to make pain the fifth vital sign, and patients had this expectation that they would have zero pain. We worked as hard as we could to bring that pain score down, and now here we are," Dr. Bradford Noble said.

Noble treats pain at Boone Hospital Center's Pain Management Clinic in Columbia, Missouri. Last year, medical professionals like Noble overhauled how they did their job.

"The No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. in individuals under the age of 50 is drug overdose. That's frightening," Noble said. "All of the doctors from my generation will probably tend to agree that we didn't get much training as part of pain management during medical school."

When OxyContin came on the market in 1996, treating pain was becoming a more serious duty in the medical field.

SEE MORE: Ohio Wants To Hold Drug Companies Responsible For Opioid Epidemic

But pain is hard to treat, and opioid medications like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin made it easier.

"They just went to the doctor, the doctor wrote them some Vicodin, the Vicodin seems to work, and you know what, I can mow my grass better with the Vicodin, too, and I can deal with the wife. Well, that's not necessarily the best treatment," Noble said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports from 1999 to 2014, sales of opioid pain medications quadrupled across the country. One estimate says roughly 259 million prescriptions were written for opioid pain medication in 2012 alone. That's enough for "every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills."

"When an opiate is ingested, it gets into the bloodstream. Then it goes to receptors that are in the brain, really in the core of the brain, that are responsible for desire and emotion. It floods these areas in the brain with dopamine, which is a potent neurotransmitter. Essentially, an addicted person has this core portion of the brain hijacked by the addiction," Noble said. 

By 2012, "commonly prescribed opioids" were killing thousands each year because of overdoses. States cracked down on doctors who over-prescribed pills, so many patients already addicted turned to heroin and more potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl. 

By March 2016, the CDC had updated its guidelines on pain management. But it's been a bit of a learning curve to get here.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out and said there is no evidence in medical literature that supports the use of opioid drugs for the treatment of chronic pain. That's a big problem," Noble said.

"It's interesting because the conversation now really is not, 'You are going to have to get on opioid medication.' So start looking for those adjuvants, the injection, the physical therapy, chiropractor, a small surgery, some other way, exercise, to help with the pain. There is a whole world of other options," Noble said.

Noble says he also encourages home remedies, like pain creams, heating pads and anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, to treat pain.

We should note, the CDC hasn't told doctors to stop using opioids to treat chronic pain.

"I think it's really important to realize that we've got a real mess here with this opioid epidemic, and we talked about some of the ways to treat opiate addiction and help those folks. But there is another part to the puzzle, and that is how are we going to prevent new folks becoming addicted over time," Noble said.

<![CDATA[These Drugs Just Surpassed Heroin As The Deadliest Opioids In The US]]> Sun, 03 Sep 2017 13:32:00 -0500
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The U.S. opioid crisis just took another dangerous turn.

Last year, synthetic opioids like fentanyl surpassed heroin as the leading cause of drug overdose deaths. b

That's according to provisional statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also found the number of overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids has more than doubled from 2015.

Altogether, the number of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 surpassed the number of deaths caused by the AIDS epidemic at its peak in 1995. 

One possible driving force behind the shift: the relative ease with which fentanyl can be produced. The base ingredient for heroin comes from the poppy flower. Fentanyl is synthetic — no crops needed.

SEE MORE: Some Doctors Are Trying To Change Easy Access To Opioids

Much of the fentanyl that comes to the U.S. is made in China. Until 2015 the drug was largely unregulated, and recently imposed bans haven't stopped the flow of drugs. In February, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission called China a "global source of illicit fentanyl." The commission notes that much of the country's pharmaceutical industry is poorly regulated and monitored.

There is some good news, though. Earlier this year, the CDC found that in 2015 the number of opioid prescriptions fell for the first time since the epidemic began.

Oftentimes prescription drugs act as a gateway to stronger, illegal opioids like heroin. Lowering the number of prescriptions might help slow the spread of the epidemic.

<![CDATA[More Than A Dozen Texas Hazardous Waste Sites May Be Flooded, Damaged]]> Sun, 03 Sep 2017 12:33:00 -0500
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Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in parts of Texas, and now residents are starting to worry about what could be in that standing water.

That's because Texas is home to dozens of "Superfund sites," or areas with high concentrations of hazardous waste and pollution. 

On Saturday, the EPA confirmed 13 Texas Superfund sites are flooded or potentially damaged. 

Superfund sites are known as being the most contaminated places in the country. Toxins found at some of the sites have been linked to birth defects and cancer. 

SEE MORE: President Trump Makes Second Visit To Flooded Texas

EPA Director Scott Pruitt said earlier this year that cleaning up Superfund sites was a priority for him, though he also backed a budget that would cut his agency's funding by at least 30 percent.

The EPA says its response teams have so far only been able to reach two of the 13 sites, neither of which was in the Houston area, and determined they weren't significantly damaged. It's unclear how much damage actually occurred.

But reporters at The Associated Press said they were able to access seven of the sites: one by boat, and six by vehicle or foot. The EPA didn't say why it hadn't been able to reach those sites, only calling them "inaccessible."

And while the agency didn't specifically mention the AP report, it did say a statement that "despite misleading and inaccurate reporting," it was working as quickly as possible to address the situation.

The agency says an inspection for at least one of the sites is planned for Monday. 

<![CDATA[This Is President Trump's Official Pick For NASA Administrator]]> Sat, 02 Sep 2017 15:25:00 -0500
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On Friday, President Donald Trump officially announced he would nominate Rep. Jim Bridenstine to lead NASA.

Bridenstine currently serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The Republican congressman from Oklahoma introduced the American Space Renaissance Act. And prior to holding office, he was a U.S. Navy pilot and the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

Bridenstine's name was originally thrown into the hat for NASA administrator shortly after Trump won the election. The congressman supported Trump during his campaign, but because months passed without an official statement from the White House, some speculated Bridenstine lost favor. 

SEE MORE: You Could Be NASA's New Planetary Protection Officer

But not everyone is convinced Bridenstine's experience in space legislation and politics makes him ready to lead NASA.

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson both publicly criticized Trump's choice. Nelson told Politico, "The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician," and Rubio voiced concerns that Bridenstine's "political baggage" would hurt the space agency.

But, Rubio did say he would meet with the congressman and review his credentials to inform his final vote.

Bridenstine's official nomination is rumored to coincide with the first meeting of the re-established National Space Council. After that, the Senate will need to confirm his appointment. 

<![CDATA[Logic's VMA Spotlight On Suicide Hotlines Prompted More Calls]]> Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:03:00 -0500
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According to a study published last year, suicide rates reached their highest point in 30 years in 2014. Since 2016, organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line have seen several rises in traffic centered around current events.

Rapper Logic sparked one such traffic rise after he performed his song "1-800-273-8255" — the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — during the Video Music Awards. Suicide attempt survivors joined Logic on stage, wearing T-shirts with the phone number and the message, "You are not alone."

After the show, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said call volume doubled.

Crisis counselors recently noted an uptick in contacts last November because of the presidential election. The Crisis Text Line told CNN it received eight times the normal amount of texts between midnight and 1 a.m. after election night. And the Trevor Project, which focuses on LGBTQ youth, reported it received double the normal amount of calls for the same reason.

After the suicide of Linkin Park musician Chester Bennington, mental health hotlines prepared for another rise in calls. Experts feared the closely timed high-profile deaths of Bennington and fellow musician Chris Cornell would inspire a suicide outbreak.  

SEE MORE: Did '13 Reasons Why' Really Have An Effect On Teen Suicide?

Advocates and other artists are working to combat suicide before it continues to spread. After Bennington's death, Linkin Park created a tribute page with suicide prevention resources. During the VMAs, fellow musician Jared Leto gave tribute to the two artists and told others considering suicide there is hope. 

Even before Logic performed his song at the VMAs, NSPL Director John Draper told CNN the song's release resulted in the second-highest call volume in the group's history.

Logic's song is based on his experiences with mental illness, and artists Alessia Cara and Khalid joined the song to represent a crisis worker and caller, respectively. Draper said Logic's song is notable because it's "not focusing on tragedy or suicide. In fact, he's starting conversations about suicide prevention, as opposed to suicide." 

<![CDATA[Bigger Floods Are Coming, And Our Emergency Plans Aren't Keeping Up]]> Fri, 01 Sep 2017 16:37:00 -0500
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Seven percent of U.S. land and 15 percent of urban areas already lie in flood plains, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And climate change is expected to expand those flood plains by almost half by the turn of the century.

And we'll probably keep building on them, which can make flooding even worse. That's what happened in Houston, which has some of the loosest formal development regulations in the U.S.

There are ways to prevent severe flooding, even around cities. Even though the Netherlands is below sea level, it stays dry. Mazes of dams and sea walls are designed to stop 10,000-year floods — severe events that stand a 1 in 10,000 chance of happening in any given year.

The U.S. doesn't plan for such severe flooding. FEMA's flood maps — which guide how construction permits are issued and determine who needs flood insurance — only track 100- and 500-year floods.

SEE MORE: Trump Repeals Obama-Era Plan To Prepare For Increased Flooding

And federal support isn't always reliable. In 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that would make government infrastructure projects more flood-resistant. But those changes never took effect, and Trump's administration reversed the order 10 days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

The good news is vulnerable cities do take steps to reduce flood risks. New Orleans installed new pumps after Hurricane Katrina that will significantly reduce flooding in the event of another 500-year storm. New York City is weighing proposals for flood protection, in case there's another storm like Hurricane Sandy.

<![CDATA[Dino Armor Might Not Be Just For Defense — It Also Could Be For Mating]]> Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:06:00 -0500
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If this dinosaur fossil tells us anything, it's that the spiky armor some nodosaurs had wasn't just for defense.

In 2011, Canadian miners accidentally dug up a 110 million-year-old fossil that had armor and spines — basically the "dinosaur equivalent of a tank."

It's taken researchers over 7,000 hours to completely uncover it. They think this dino had quite a bit in common with antelopes and rhinoceroses.

SEE MORE: Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Probably Left Earth In Darkness For 2 Years

Palaeontologists say they believe although the dinosaur's shell was used for defense, it also might've helped attract mates — similar to the horns and antlers of today's animals.

But researchers can't for sure say what all the armor did until they find other specimens. And they say finding one that's this well-preserved is a long shot.

<![CDATA[The US Interior Secretary Is Being Sued Over Yellowstone Grizzly Bears]]> Thu, 31 Aug 2017 11:40:00 -0500
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The Trump administration is facing another lawsuit. This time, over grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. 

Multiple environmental groups are suing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to get the bear placed back on the endangered species list.

Zinke announced the decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzly from the list back in June, noting the bear's population increased to a point where federal protection wasn't needed. Review of the bear's status started during the Obama administration.

About 700 bears now live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Size estimates vary, but at the most, it's a 22 million acre area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho that also encompasses the Yellowstone National Park.

The environmental groups point out the loss in federal protection means the Yellowstone grizzly bear can be hunted outside of the national park boundry. 

"These iconic bears need to be protected, not gunned down so their heads can go on some trophy hunter's wall," an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement

The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed the lawsuit together. 

SEE MORE: Zinke Reportedly Recommended Shrinking These 3 National Monuments

The lawsuit also notes that because of climate change, bears are eating more meat. And if the bears are caught eating livestock in their hunt for food, Montana and Idaho allow ranchers to kill them.

The groups allege the Interior Department didn't address these "mortality consequences" when it decided to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the endangered species list. 

The Interior Department has not commented on the lawsuit. 

A separate environmental group — WildEarth Guardians — filed a similar lawsuit in the same Montana federal court. It's possible the two lawsuits will eventually be combined. 

<![CDATA[AI Can Do An Astronomer's Job 10 Million Times Faster]]> Thu, 31 Aug 2017 09:55:00 -0500
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Artificial intelligence just made one tedious aspect of astronomy a lot easier.

A team of researchers trained neural networks to analyze the effects of gravitational lensing — that can happen when faraway galaxies appear to be multiplied or stretched into rings and arcs by the gravity of massive objects closer to Earth.

SEE MORE: Scientists Don't Actually Know Why Anything Exists

Astronomers built a computer to mimic how the human brain processes information and fed it half a million example images of gravitational lensing. The computer eventually learned to analyze new lensing pictures in seconds — nearly 10 million times faster than astronomers can.

Researchers study these distortions to map out how mass is distributed in the universe and to uncover new clues about dark matter. The team said this faster capability is vital for future exploration as we look deeper and closer into space.

<![CDATA[FDA OKs Leukemia Treatment That Trains Cells To Fight Cancer]]> Wed, 30 Aug 2017 21:17:00 -0500
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A brand new way of treating leukemia is on its way to the U.S. market, and it could change how doctors fight cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a treatment called Kymriah. It's designed to fight a type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. 

It works by taking cells out of the patient's body and modifying them to fight cancer cells, then reintroducing them to the immune system in a process known as gene therapy. The treatment is the first of its kind approved in the U.S.

There's plenty of reason to be excited about Kymriah. The FDA says it provides a sorely needed treatment option for the disease. 

It also appears to be effective. A clinical trial found 83 percent of patients who underwent the treatment went into remission within three months.

SEE MORE: Where You Live Could Affect Your Cancer Risk

But there are drawbacks — the main one being the price tag. The treatment costs $475,000.

Despite the high price tag, it's worth remembering that other leukemia treatments, like bone marrow transplants, can be even more expensive.

The drug's maker, Novartis, also pledged that it wouldn't charge any patient who didn't respond to the treatment after a month.

The treatment also has some potential side effects, including an immune system overreaction known as cytokine release syndrome and low blood pressure.

After the FDA approval, hospitals are close to offering Kymriah to patients. Dr. Kevin Curran, an oncologist who hopes to use the treatment soon, told The New York Times: "This is a big paradigm shift, using this living drug. It will provide a lot of hope. This is the beginning."

<![CDATA[The Field Museum Is Giving Sue The T. Rex Her Own Room]]> Wed, 30 Aug 2017 17:12:00 -0500
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After spending 17 years welcoming people into Chicago's Field Museum, Sue the T. rex skeleton is moving to a new home

The museum announced the move on Wednesday. Sue will be dismantled in February, and then she'll get an exhibit all to herself. A cast of the newly discovered titanosaur — the largest land animal ever found — will take her place in Stanley Field Hall.

Now, it may seem like Sue is just getting replaced by a newer, bigger, higher-profile dinosaur, but the T. rex skeleton is also getting a bit of a makeover.

SEE MORE: Paleontologists Name Dinosaur After Demon Dog In 'Ghostbusters'

In light of new discoveries regarding the dinosaur's skeleton, Sue's arms will be repositioned, and her belly will get a few more bones. Sue's new exhibit will also put the T. rex in her natural habitat, complete with the animals and plants that lived alongside her.

And Sue is worth that extra love and care. As the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever found, she was originally bought for almost $8 million — a big price tag that blew up the market for dinosaur bones. And it was worth it. In her first year on display, the Field Museum was visited by 2.4 million people.

Since then, Sue has also inspired children's books, a traveling exhibition and a documentary.

The opening of Sue's new exhibit and the arrival of the titanosaur skeleton will coincide with the Field Museum's 125th anniversary next year.

<![CDATA[A 'Lego-Like' Vacuum-Powered Robot Can Reassemble Into Other Machines]]> Wed, 30 Aug 2017 13:05:00 -0500
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These fleshy-looking body parts aren't for humans; they're actually the building blocks for a new soft robot.

A team of researchers built a set of robotic body parts from foam and silicone. And like Legos, the robot's parts are interchangeable and can be swapped to create a variety of tools.

For example, when the robot is equipped with suction cups, it can become an arm.

SEE MORE: These Robots Can 'Heal' Themselves

Those suction cups could also be used as feet. The same team created a caterpillar-like robot that can carry objects up a wall.

The vacuum-powered prototypes deflate parts of themselves to move around. If walking doesn't work, the robot can wiggle or roll.

The designers said their technology could be a cheap way for educators, researchers or hobbyists to experiment with soft robots.

<![CDATA[For A Renewable Future, We'll Need To Be Able To Store Way More Power]]> Wed, 30 Aug 2017 11:39:00 -0500
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Some entrepreneurs and scientists say that if we wanted to, we could run whole countries on sunlight and wind.

"It doesn't take much," Elon Musk told the National Governors Association. "If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels ... you only need about a hundred miles by a hundred miles."

But there's a problem with renewables we still haven't solved: storing power from when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing so we can use that power later. We do this all the time with batteries at home, but AA batteries won't cut it on a national scale. Replacing fossil fuels will require ingenious ways to store power.

Some methods have been around for a while. The U.S. has stored power in reservoirs since the 1930s. We pump water uphill when power is abundant and release it downhill to spin turbines when power is scarce.

In the same way, we can pump empty caves full of compressed air so it can be released to spin turbines later. We can even store power by beaming concentrated sunlight onto towers of molten salt, which can stay hot enough to turn water into useful steam for as long as a week.

And Musk is still pinning his hopes on batteries, which are easy to charge and transport.

Putting these technologies to use nationally will be a huge undertaking, though. Right now, the U.S. stores less than 3 percent of its total power needs at any one time. And we only meet 10 percent of our energy demand with renewables. To hit 100 percent would require an enormous investment, not only in solar panels and turbines, but in storage, too.

SEE MORE: Running On Renewable Energy Is Still Mostly A Matter Of Luck

You can't just put a reservoir just anywhere. And fields of batteries or salt power storage for solar plants are still more expensive than coal.

Critics worry that proclaiming the renewable renaissance is right around the corner can actually make it harder to move toward that future. It discounts other energy tech, like nuclear power, and ignores all of the research and development we still have to do to give renewables a bigger slice of the market. 

The good news? We are moving toward that future. The U.S. government is issuing more permits for hydropower reservoirs, for example, and public and private sectors are both building better batteries.

<![CDATA[Turning Trash Into Biofuel Might Not Be As Green As You Think]]> Wed, 30 Aug 2017 10:41:00 -0500
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Getting rid of the world's trash is becoming more important than ever. We're running out of room to store it, and garbage is a significant source of the methane and carbon dioxide that drive climate change.

Some experts suggest converting that waste to energy might be an eco-friendly solution. Scientists and experts say processing garbage into biofuel could reduce global carbon emissions by 80 percent and could reduce the volume of trash by about 87 percent.

Countries like Sweden and Norway swear by the process. In 2015, Sweden converted nearly 2.3 million metric tons of household waste into biofuel. And both countries claim to have nearly run out of waste and now import garbage from other countries to meet their energy demands.

SEE MORE: Our Oceans Are Littered With Trash — Here's How We Could Fix It

But waste-to-energy is still controversial. Some worry the convenience of turning trash into energy might deter recycling efforts and slow progress toward a goal of zero waste. Others point out waste-to-energy facilities still emit harmful greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere. 

Dozens of cities in the U.S.Canada and China have blocked waste-to-energy efforts, expressing concerns about pollution and public health.

But waste-to-energy creates less pollution than landfills and other energy resources like coal and could still help reduce the amount of garbage in our landfills.

<![CDATA[A Plastic Bag Could Cost You $38,000 In Kenya]]> Tue, 29 Aug 2017 17:01:00 -0500
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In Kenya, plastic bags have become so pervasive in the environment that they're starting to make their way into the food chain.

But now, a law seeks to change that: Anyone found selling, manufacturing or carrying polythene bags in Kenya could face a $38,000 fine or up to four years in prison.

This is the third time the country has tried to ban plastic bags in some form. Several other countries in the region have passed laws to either ban or penalize the production and use of the bags.

Not everyone is on board, though. Manufacturers challenged the ban in court, saying that the law might cost Kenya tens of thousands of jobs. The ban could also negatively impact the country's poorest citizens, who rely on the cheap, versatile bags in their daily lives.

SEE MORE: South Africa's President Survives Another No-Confidence Vote

The law was announced six months ago, so individuals and businesses have had some time to adjust. But government officials said the goal was not to arrest people. Now that the law has gone into effect, Kenya's government will have to decide how strictly to enforce it.

<![CDATA[Sea Shepherd Admits Setback In Battle Against Japanese Whaling Ships]]> Tue, 29 Aug 2017 11:12:00 -0500
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For the first time in more than a decade, the Sea Shepherd fleet won't confront Japanese whaling vessels in the ocean around Antarctica.

Paul Watson, the conservation group's founder, said Japanese military technology, increased costs and "hostile governments" made it too difficult to save whales again this season.

Watson claims the Japanese military is now using satellite technology to monitor the organization's ships so Japanese whaling vessels can avoid them.

The country also passed laws making it a terrorist offense for protest ships to sail near whaling vessels.

Watson also accuses other governments, like the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, of working against the conservation group.

For instance, a U.S. court delivered an injunction last year against Sea Shepherd to keep its American branch of ships from coming within 500 yards of Japanese whalers.

And Watson accused Australian customs officials of harassing Sea Shepherd crews and the Australian government of deliberately denying Sea Shepherd charity status.

In 2010, Australia brought Japan in front of the United Nations judiciary system — alleging Japan was illegally conducting large-scale commercial whaling in the Antarctic.

SEE MORE: How Might Hurricane Harvey Impact The Oil Industry And Environment?

The International Court of Justice condemned Japan's whaling, but the country still argued it was for scientific research.

While Sea Shepherd says it won't actively fight Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean this year, the group says it will work on a new way to combat international whaling.

<![CDATA[Future Rovers May Look Really Different Than Much Of What We've Seen]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 12:27:00 -0500
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When it comes to space exploration, launching people into the final frontier is easier said than done. We haven't sent a human beyond low-Earth orbit since 1972.

That's why scientists rely on rovers to assist with celestial data collection. But the machines have their limits. Curiosity, for example, is starting to show its age — and the technology that works for a Martian rover won't necessarily work on other planets or moons.

As we push to make more world-specific robot explorers, scientists are kicking around ideas for bots that are even more specialized, depending on where they're sent.

Take NASA's Super Ball Bot. It's just a series of rods and cables and can be dropped from a spacecraft without breaking on impact. The lightweight machine collapses and expands itself to move across unknown but potentially hazardous surfaces, like those on Saturn's moon Titan.

SEE MORE: This Small Robot Could Change The Way We Explore Other Planets

Some scientists are creating flying rovers. The quadcopter Dragonfly, for example, is designed to survey Titan's surface from above. The moon's atmosphere is dense, and its gravity is low, which makes flight easy.

NASA even plans to make a Strandbeest-inspired rover that "combines steampunk with space exploration." Extreme temperatures on Venus and Mercury can melt sensitive electronics, so the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments walks around on mechanical legs.

<![CDATA[Climate Change Might Make Intense Hurricanes Like Harvey More Common]]> Sun, 27 Aug 2017 15:26:00 -0500
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Hurricane Harvey was the most intense hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. mainland in over a decade.

And because of climate change, hurricanes like Harvey are probably going to become more common.

It's hard to pin a single weather event — like Harvey — on climate change. But predictive models show it could make future hurricanes stronger. 

One 2010 study says by the end of the century, the U.S. should expect a 30 percent increase in potential damage from hurricanes in just the Atlantic.

According to the study, two things in particular are likely to get a lot worse in future hurricanes: storm surge and rainfall.

Rising sea levels caused by global warming make coastal areas more likely to flood when a storm begins pushing water inland, a process known as storm surge.

SEE MORE: One US Region Is Expected To Take The Brunt Of Climate Change Costs

The storm surge coming off a hurricane is usually the deadliest part of the actual storm, and it's often the most destructive.

Between 1986 and 2015, NOAA estimates hurricanes caused a total of $515.4 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation.

The increased intensity of the hurricanes also means the storms will be dumping more rain. And that means flooding farther inland will become a bigger problem, too.

The National Weather Service predicts rainfall totals from Harvey could exceed 40 inches in certain areas, and the storm could cause $40 billion in damage.

There might be a bit of good news, though. While stronger hurricanes are likely to become more common, some analysts predict there will also be fewer hurricanes overall.

<![CDATA[How Hurricane Harvey Might Affect The Environment And The Oil Industry]]> Sat, 26 Aug 2017 15:54:00 -0500
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Hurricane Harvey already left heavy damage in Texas, but the rest of the country may soon feel its impact.

That's because nearly one-third of the country's oil refining capacity was in Harvey's path. Oil analysts predict gas prices will temporarily spike 5 to 25 cents — depending on the damage — before lowering in a month.

But some environmental experts foresee even greater havoc.

An environmental engineer told CBS News he predicts several major refineries will shut down due to flooding. That would result in a "major gap" in gasoline and fuel availability.

He said: "We could see the worst environmental disaster in United States history." Beyond gaps in resources, other experts say sudden refinery shutdowns could unleash tons of pollutants into the air. 

SEE MORE: Exxon Mobil Reportedly Wants To Resume Oil Deal With Russia

After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, wastewater treatment plants leaked 11 billion gallons of sewage into the water system. After Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the ground and water. 

Last fall, The New York Times published an op-ed describing a hypothetical hurricane that would hit Texas and push water over the Galveston Seawall. It predicts the impacts of those floods would spill millions of gallons of petroleum and chemicals into the community, resulting in one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. It urges better protection of refineries and preparation for storms before they happen.

The Environmental Protection Agency has teamed up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other local partners to support response efforts. Prior to landfall, the EPA made sure to secure federal Superfund sites and assess public drinking water systems. The EPA also announced Friday it would temporarily waive environmental standards on fuel to prepare for possible shortages.

<![CDATA[Google Just Added This Feature To The Search Results For 'Depression']]> Fri, 25 Aug 2017 16:09:00 -0500
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Google wants to make it easier for people to seek mental health treatment.

Partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Google added a "clinically validated" questionnaire in the search results for "depression" or "clinical depression."

The feature, currently available only on Google mobile searches, is based on the PHQ-9 screening tool — which doctors have used for 18 years to help diagnose mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

It's not meant to give a complete diagnosis, but Google hopes it will inform and encourage people to talk with their doctors.

Medical professionals have been calling for this sort of action in recent years. Almost two-thirds of Americans use their phones to look up general health concerns, and experts think a better response could prompt more people to seek care.

SEE MORE: Computers Can Sense Depression Clues In Your Instagram Pics

Last spring, researchers found that voice assistants like Siri, Google Now and Cortana responded poorly to simple mental health questions.

If you told Google Now "I am depressed," it would just search the phrase online. Meanwhile, Samsung's S Voice responded with a variety of answers like, "If it's serious, you may want to seek help from a professional," or, "Maybe the weather is affecting you." None of the voice assistants referred users to professionals or told them about their options.

Google's new questionnaire feature could be just the beginning. Other researchers are searching for more ways to identify mental health concerns and to encourage users to seek treatment.

<![CDATA[Should More Scientists Hold Public Office?]]> Fri, 25 Aug 2017 14:18:00 -0500
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There's a renewed push to get more scientists in office. But why? 

Some people don't like how past and present administrations handled science. Others argue the government is too involved in science issues it doesn't understand. 

But would more scientists in politics actually change anything?

Some groups think so, like 314 Action. It tries to get more scientists elected and advises them during campaigns. Founder Shaughnessy Naughton said scientists have the background knowledge and a solid understanding of the science issues at hand. She says they know the evidence and they know the facts.

So having more scientists in office might lead to more informed, evidenced-based decisions on science issues. Scientists overwhelmingly agree on many things — like climate change and vaccines — that politicians are still debating.

Scientists in Congress also might help lawmakers avoid embarrassments, like calling fruit fly research useless — without realizing the insects are essential in our understanding of genetics.

Only about 11 percent of Congress has a STEM degree, but only a handful of  that group has worked in their field and even fewer have published research. But all of them almost always support legislation that advances research and funds development.

SEE MORE: Science May Not Be Political, But The March For Science Sure Was

But those politicians aren't immune from politicization. According to a survey from Pew Research Center, the scientific community tends to lean left. And Republicans seem to have a long-lasting anti-science reputation. In short, science isn't just political, it's already partisan.

An editorial in Nature argued having more scientists in office would risk the field further losing any sort of bipartisan image and reinforce the idea of scientists as "liberal activists."

Peter Blair heads the National Research Council division on Engineering and Physical Sciences and argues science is already deeply political. In a paper from the National Academy of Engineering, he says the evidence is in the federal government's regulation of science and technology industries, as well as its funding of basic research.

Naughton, who's with 314 Action, says she thinks more scientists in office would ease politicization. Opinions might still differ, but she said she hopes scientists would make decisions based on fact, not political ideology.

And scientists who don't want to leave the lab can still inform and educate the public, which might still help push evidenced-based policy decisions.

<![CDATA[Humans Are Putting A Lot More Methane Into The Air Than We Thought]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 20:09:00 -0500
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There's a fear among scientists that global warming will cause pockets of ancient methane buried deep in ice and permafrost to leak into the atmosphere.

That would, in turn, make global warming worse, which would release more methane, which would make global warming even worse — and, well, you get the idea.

But new research suggests we might not need to worry about that after all.

Instead, we should be more worried about the methane humans are releasing now. We might be releasing at least 25 percent more of the gas than we previously thought. 

The scientists gathered over 2,000 lbs. of ancient ice in Antarctica. Inside that ice were little bubbles of air, time capsules of atmosphere from over 11,000 years ago. That atmosphere is expected to be close to what our atmosphere would be like if humans weren't burning fossil fuels. And when the scientists examined those bubbles, they found something interesting: The natural levels of methane in our atmosphere were a lot lower than we thought they should be. 

SEE MORE: Utilities Might've Known About Climate Change As Early As 1968

Methane is actually a pretty hard gas to track. Previous estimates found 60 percent of methane added to the atmosphere every year was from human activity. And there's been a huge increase in methane levels recently, despite carbon dioxide emissions leveling off.

Humans produce methane in any number of ways. It's produced when we pull resources like coal and oil out of the ground. Livestock produce it and so do our landfills. 

But the scientists say the discovery actually gives us more leverage in the fight against global warming.

That's because, despite carbon dioxide getting a bad rap for climate change, methane is actually a lot better at trapping heat. 

The new research gives countries a better idea of how much they need to limit methane emissions to make an impact on climate change.  

As for that methane time bomb buried beneath the ice scientists have been worried about? Well, the researchers think microbes that eat the gas kept that methane out of the atmosphere during the last rapid warming event after the last ice age. 

<![CDATA[Brazil Opens Part Of The Amazon Rainforest To Privatized Mining]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 17:42:00 -0500
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Brazil's government is rolling back environmental protections in a massive chunk of the Amazon rainforest.

In 1984, Brazil blocked private companies from mining a 17,800-square-mile part of the Amazon. But President Michel Temer is reversing course.

The area — called the National Reserve of Copper and Associates — is believed to have precious metals like copper, gold and others. The government says mining companies will only be able to extract from about 30 percent of the land.

The reason stems from Brazil's ongoing economic turmoil. The country is in the midst of one of its worst-ever recessions and President Temer is hoping to attract outside investment into the country and create jobs.

SEE MORE: A Lot Of Monkeys Are Dying In Brazil, And Humans Aren't Helping

An economic uptick would certainly be helpful for Temer's political future. The recession along with a corruption scandal helped bring his approval rating down to just 5 percent.

The government says the mining won't affect the animals, plants or indigenous people in the area, but advocates think it could have huge consequences. 

The executive director of the World Wildlife Foundation Brazil said the mining "will create irreversible damage to local cultures" as well as "demographic exploitation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and water resources." 

An opposition senator said the mining plan was "the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years." 

Advocates are concerned the mines could reduce the recent progress made to protect the Amazon. Brazil says the deforestation rate in the Amazon fell 21 percent in the past two years.

<![CDATA[Astronomers Took One Of The Most-Detailed Images Ever Of A Star]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 15:13:00 -0500
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With help from the aptly named Very Large Telescope, the European Southern Observatory just captured the most detailed image ever of a star outside our solar system.

The star is called Antares, and it's about 550 light-years away from Earth in the center of the constellation Scorpius.

Astronomers are tracking the red supergiant through its later stages before it becomes a supernova.

SEE MORE: The Brightest Supernova Ever Was Really A Black Hole Shredding A Star

They think Antares once had a mass 15 times more than the sun's. The distant star has shed three solar masses since then, but its diameter is still 700 times larger than ours.

Beyond looking cool, the photos have scientific value. The ESO said the images could debunk a theory about why some stars lose so much mass before they die.

<![CDATA[We May Soon Find Out If Trump Can Remove Monuments' Protections]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 14:41:00 -0500
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Can President Donald Trump completely take away a national monument's protection? We may find out.

Trump claims recent presidents, like Barack Obama, abused the Antiquities Act of 1906 — which lets presidents unilaterally give federal lands monument status. 

By executive order, Trump tasked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review roughly two dozen monuments. Currently, they make up millions of acres of protected land and seabed. 

On Thursday, Zinke gave Trump his recommendations as to which monuments he thinks should be scaled down in size.

SEE MORE: Why Confederate Monuments Exist In The First Place

Though he didn't immediately release them to the public, he did tell The Associated Press he wouldn't recommend completely scrapping any monument. Instead, he said he'd push to reduce the size of a "handful" of monuments.

In a summary of his report, Zinke said the boundaries on some monuments are "arbitrary" or "politically motivated."

But conservationists worry Trump will take those recommendations a step further and remove some monuments' designations.

That move would be unprecedented. And whether he really could is up for debate. 

Some, like Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, have already argued the Antiquities Act doesn't give Trump a legal right to remove a designation — mainly because it doesn't explicitly say he can. 

Some legal experts told Politifact similar laws created around the same time as the Antiquities Act specifically said the president could remove the land protections given in those laws. Therefore, the argument goes that if Congress wanted the Antiquities Act to give the president the power to remove designations, it would have said so.

But other legal experts argue a basic guarantee of the Constitution is that the government can reverse any action it was allowed to take in the first place. 

Two legal experts told Politifact the Constitution doesn't explicitly say Congress can undo a law either, but Congress has long shown it's able to do just that by simply creating a new law. 

Activists have threatened legal action if the Trump administration decides to alter or eliminate any national monuments. 

<![CDATA[What McDonald's Is Doing To Look Out For Your Health]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 13:58:00 -0500
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McDonald's is expanding its antibiotic chicken policy and taking it to locations around the globe.

Starting in 2018, the fast-food company will phase out chicken that contains certain antibiotics. The World Health Organization has deemed these as the "Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials" to human medicine.

Basically, the antibiotics on the WHO list are ones that, if overused, can make it harder for humans to fight off illness.

When animals are continually fed antibiotics, bacteria can build up a resistance and make them less effective. That resistance can be passed on to the humans who eat the animals.

SEE MORE: DNA Proves Chicken From These Fast-Food Places Isn't All Chicken

McDonald's says it will phase out the use in tiers and be done in every McDonald's restaurant worldwide by 2027.

The company says it also plans to implement similar rules for its other meats — like beef and pork — in the future.

<![CDATA[This Ancient Babylonian Tablet Dates Trigonometry Back 3,700 Years]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 13:01:00 -0500
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If you hated trigonometry in high school, blame the Babylonians.

Scientists say a 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet they've studied is the world's oldest, most accurate trigonometric table. It predates the Greeks' mastery of trig by about 1,000 years.

Antiquities dealer Edgar Banks discovered the tablet back in the early 1900s. But scholars and mathematicians weren't sure what it was originally used for.

SEE MORE: Mummy DNA Might Help End A Decades-Old Debate

Now, researchers argue the tablet has a special pattern of numbers describing a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles. This is a simpler and more accurate form than modern-day trigonometry — it's based on ratios instead of angles and circles.

It's still not clear how the tablet was used. Some historians suggest it was used for teaching; others say it was a tool used in the construction of ancient temples and canals. Mathematicians say if we wanted to, we could put it to the same use today.

<![CDATA[Here's What Elon Musk Wants Astronauts To Wear On The SpaceX Dragon]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 11:24:00 -0500
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We're getting our first glimpse at what Elon Musk wants astronauts to wear on SpaceX's Dragon craft.

On Wednesday, the SpaceX CEO revealed only one picture of the suit, but we can still glean some info from his Instagram post.

Some are comparing Musk's helmet to those worn by Daft Punk. And others are saying SpaceX's sleek suit looks more like a fighter pilot's than an astronaut's.

The latter falls right in line with Musk's goal of balancing form and function.

SEE MORE: SpaceX Is Now One Of The Most Valuable US Tech Companies

SpaceX isn't designing these suits for spacewalks. Like a pilot's, Musk's suit is meant to protect its occupant while they're inside the craft.

SpaceX's suit looks a lot like the one Boeing unveiled earlier this year. And that's likely because the companies have similar business strategies — to have NASA pay them to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Musk has promised to unveil more details on SpaceX's suit soon. We'll see what answers they have to Boeing's helmets that zip instead of latch, leg pockets that hold survival kits and footwear that Reebok helped design.

<![CDATA[Millions May Be At Risk Of Arsenic Poisoning In Pakistan]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 18:53:00 -0500
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study released Wednesday found that at least 50 million people in Pakistan are at risk for arsenic poisoning from contaminated water.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element sometimes found in soil. In high doses, it can cause cancers, skin disorders, abnormal heart rhythms and even death. There's no cure for arsenic poisoning. 

Experts say levels of the pollutant along the Indus River are much higher than the levels determined safe by the World Health Organization. 

Pakistan has been struggling to provide clean water access. A 2016 survey of almost 3,000 water sources in the country found around 70-80 percent of them contained water that was contaminated or unsafe for drinking.

SEE MORE: Why It's So Hard To Get Everyone Access To Clean Water

And thanks to a population boom over the past few decades, farmers have begun overpumping groundwater.

They have to use more water than is typically necessary due to outdated infrastructure, and that can lead to arsenic contamination in underground aquifers.

Some researchers aren't sold on the study's impact yet. One professor told the BBC that if the study's estimate of the affected population is correct, its estimate of the number of people at risk globally should be much higher.

The study calls for testing arsenic levels for every water well in the Indus River Valley. 

<![CDATA[Is Pee A Key For Successful Trips To Mars?]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 14:05:00 -0500
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NASA is trying to figure out if pee could be key for a successful trip to Mars — or any other long-term space mission.

The space agency wants to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. Now, it's helping fund a project that tests what human urine and other molecules can be made into in space to make long-term missions more feasible. 

Here's how it works: Researchers combine certain strains of yeast with algae, nitrogen from urine and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere or human breath. Those ingredients help the yeast grow. 

Then, depending on the strain of yeast, the product of those elements can be engineered into polymers, like polyester, or nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids. 

SEE MORE: The Space Poop Challenge Is Something You Might Actually Want To Win

The team notes scientists have tested the limits of yeast in similar ways but not for the same purpose.

The team thinks the polymers could be put into a 3-D printer to make plastic tools for astronauts traveling to Mars, and the nutrients could be used to make supplements for them to take during their missions in space.

Of course, the research is preliminary and the researchers note actual output of the yeast and other ingredients is pretty small — but that's what the scientists hope to improve with time. 

<![CDATA[Avocados Are So Healthy, Even The Seed Husks Might Have Medical Uses]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 10:44:00 -0500
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Americans consume about 1.9 billion pounds of avocados a year, which has driven the humble "alligator pear" from a rare delicacy to the most pinned food on Pinterest.

Scientists researching the fruit usually focus on its flesh, but in a first-of-its-kind study, a team decided instead to focus on a part that's usually thrown out.

Researchers ground 300 dried avocado seed husks into powder and then extracted the oil and wax.

SEE MORE: If The US Leaves NAFTA, That Could Cost Avocado-Lovers

Chemical analysis showed the oil had more than 100 compounds, some of which might slow the growth of tumor cells and reduce fat buildup that clogs arteries. The chemicals in avocado husk wax were similar to those used to make flexible plastics for medical devices and cosmetics.

Now that they've discovered some more of the avocado's building blocks, the researchers say they want to figure out if they can use those parts to create new medications.

<![CDATA[Trump Scraps Federal Climate Change Advisory Panel]]> Tue, 22 Aug 2017 17:25:00 -0500
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The Trump administration just disbanded another federal advisory panel. This one examined the effects of climate change. 

The National Climate Assessment Panel came to an end Sunday. Here's why that matters. 

The group is tasked with evaluating a federal climate report and giving recommendations to the administration based on its findings. The report is mandated by Congress every four years to assess the state of climate change in our country and its potential effects. 

A draft leaked in early August showed temperatures have risen drastically over the past few decades and human actions are likely to blame.

Some researchers told news outlets they were concerned that information would be buried or altered by the Trump administration before it had a chance to go public.  

There doesn't seem to be proof that would happen. But with no expert panel to interpret the report, government agencies could struggle to apply its findings to their jobs.

President Trump and his administration have already made it clear that climate change isn't exactly a top priority.

SEE MORE: The EPA Just Removed Climate Change Info From Its Website

Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt has questioned the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide is a main contributor to global warming.

Pruitt does believe that climate change is occurring but says the extent of human impact on that process is debatable.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the federal report will still be completed by next year despite the panel's dissolution. 

<![CDATA[Some Doctors Are Trying To Change Easy Access To Opioids]]> Tue, 22 Aug 2017 11:35:00 -0500
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There is no one reason for the rise of opioid addiction in the U.S., but doctors willing to freely prescribe painkillers was inarguably a factor. Patient satisfaction and how that affected government payments to hospitals also contributed.

The interview that follows features Dr. Buck Parker, a trauma surgeon based out of Salt Lake City. Dr. Parker and Newsy's "The Why" host Cristina Mutchler talk about the balancing act doctors must now perform to keep their patients healthy, not simply happy.

SEE MORE: Moving The Needle: Saving Lives In The Heroin Crisis

Get a deeper understanding of the stories that matter with Newsy's "The Why" — weekdays 7-9 p.m. ET.

<![CDATA[Johnson & Johnson Defends Baby Powder Safety After Losing Another Suit]]> Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:35:00 -0500
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Johnson & Johnson has lost yet another lawsuit related to the talc found in its trademark baby powder.

On Monday, a Los Angeles jury ordered the company to pay a whopping $417 million to a woman who developed ovarian cancer after using the powder every day for decades.

The woman claimed Johnson & Johnson knew about the potential risks of using its talcum-based products but didn't warn the public.

Thousands of other women across the country have filed similar lawsuits against the company after getting a cancer diagnosis.

Only a handful of those cases have gone to trial so far, but most of the verdicts have gone against Johnson & Johnson. And the company was forced to fork over millions of dollars as a result.

SEE MORE: Where You Live Could Affect Your Cancer Risk

Johnson & Johnson has continued to stand behind its talcum powder products because it says science has determined they're safe to use.

Talc is a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. In powder form, talc absorbs moisture and helps reduce friction, which is why many people use it to keep their skin dry and prevent rashes.

But research on consumer products containing talc has had mixed results.

The American Cancer Society notes several studies have suggested "a very slight increase" in risk of ovarian cancer for women who use talc-based powders for personal hygiene.

Still, scientists have yet to find a definitive link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, and they say it could be difficult to do that.

<![CDATA[Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Probably Left Earth In Darkness For 2 Years]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 16:50:00 -0500
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It's well-known that the dinosaurs started going extinct when an asteroid crashed into Earth around 66 million years ago. But new research suggests that same asteroid helped darken the planet for two years, which likely killed a lot of life.

Researchers modeled changes to Earth's atmosphere based on how much soot the asteroid knocked into the sky. They found global wildfires helped lift that soot through the atmosphere, which eventually created a veil that blocked sunlight.

It was said to make Earth "as dark as a moonlit night." Average temperatures also dropped about 50 degrees Fahrenheit on land, and plants that survived the strike couldn't photosynthesize for over a year and a half.

SEE MORE: NASA's 'DART' Program Could Prevent Asteroids From Hitting Earth

It also destroyed marine life. Phytoplankton, considered the backbone of the marine food chain, use photosynthesis to create energy. With no light, phytoplankton died, and the rest of the aquatic food chain suffered.

Although the darkness lingered for years, researchers were surprised to find it ended abruptly. As more water formed in the upper atmosphere, it crowded the soot out, leaving more space for precipitation to happen. As it rained more and more, the soot eventually dispersed, and the Earth got light again.

<![CDATA[What It's Like Under A Total Solar Eclipse]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 16:31:00 -0500
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This is what you see and hear in the shadow of a total solar eclipse.

An eclipse begins slowly. The sky starts to darken as the moon moves in front of the sun. To watch this part, you need eclipse glasses or filters on your telescope. You can also make or find a pinhole viewer with cardboard, with a nearby tree or with your own hands. This phase lasts about 90 minutes.

Then, shadow banding happens when turbulence in the atmosphere refracts the incoming light — the same reason stars twinkle at night. A few minutes before totality, the sun is a sharp-edged crescent instead of a full disk, which makes these distortions easier to see.

Baily's beads, sometimes called "diamond rings," appear around the very edge of the moon when it's nearly eclipsed the sun. Mountains and craters on the lunar surface block sunlight in places, and let it through in others.

SEE MORE: There's Only One Real Danger During A Total Solar Eclipse

Totality lasts only a few minutes, but it's impossible to miss. It suddenly gets as dark as a moonlit night, and the horizon glows with twilight in every direction because you're in the middle of the moon's shadow.

In fact, if you can hear past the racket you and your fellow eclipse-watchers are probably making, you might notice the crickets come out: For just a couple minutes, it feels like night.

And then, just as suddenly, it starts getting light again. In 90 minutes, the sun is uncovered.

<![CDATA[Scientists Puzzled By Weekslong Fire On Icy Greenland]]> Sun, 20 Aug 2017 15:50:00 -0500
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A massive fire that's been burning in Greenland for at least two weeks has scientists shaking their heads.

The fire is in the country's western region, and as of Aug. 16 was just 40 miles from the Greenland ice sheet. It's unusual because of its large size — about 3,000 acres — and the length of time it's been burning.

There have been no definitive reports on what started the blaze. It first appeared on satellite radar July 31, but could have started before then.

And while scientists may not know exactly when or how the fire started, they do have pretty strong ideas about its implications.

SEE MORE: Climate Change Is Melting The Arctic Ice Out From Under Our Buildings

They suspect it will exacerbate the melting of Greenland's already dissolving ice sheets.

Researchers say if soot from the fire settles on the ice, it will decrease the deflection of heat from the sun.

That means more heat will be absorbed into the ice, increasing melt.

Scientists at the Netherlands' Delft University of Technology say it's been the worst year for wildfires in Greenland in 18 years.

Climate change is also expected to contribute to larger, longer-lasting fires in Greenland's future. That's not great news, considering Greenland is the largest global contributor to rising seas. If its entire ice sheet were to melt, the water could flood or submerge much of the world's coasts.

<![CDATA[Mosquitoes Are Awful. So Why Haven't We Tried Exterminating Them?]]> Sun, 20 Aug 2017 08:41:00 -0500
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Mosquitoes are annoying. And because they spread malaria, Zika, dengue fever and other diseases, mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world, killing about 725,000 people each year.

That begs the question: Why don't we just exterminate them?

Humans are skilled at getting rid of animal species. We've killed off dodo birds and Tasmanian tigers, and they were actually kind of cool.

But wiping out the mosquito population might not be helpful in the long run. Some mosquitoes can provide a food source for other animals and help pollinate plants.

Plus, only a fraction of the 3,000 mosquito species bite humans. And of those that do, only a handful, like Aedes aegypti, can actually spread disease.

SEE MORE: Scientists Want To Release 20 Million Male Mosquitoes Here

Scientists are still trying to remove as many of the bloodsuckers as possible with some pretty creative methods.

In one trial, scientists altered Aedes aegypti DNA to create infertile offspring. Those insects were released in the Cayman Islands and caused a 96 percent drop in the mosquito population.

Other methods are less science and more science fiction: Researchers have developed a system that targets mosquitoes and shoots them down with lasers.

But no matter what methods are used, mosquitoes are likely here to stay. The executive director of Chicago's North Shore Mosquito Abatement District said "it is absolutely impossible to kill all the mosquitoes. … There will always be a remnant population somewhere that will repopulate."

<![CDATA[Meet The Man About To Witness His 27th Total Solar Eclipse]]> Fri, 18 Aug 2017 17:09:00 -0500
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While millions of Americans experience their first total solar eclipse, Donald Liebenberg will be seeing his 27th.

Liebenberg is an adjunct professor in the physics and astronomy department at Clemson University's College of Science. He holds the record for most time spent in totality — that's when the moon completely covers the sun. 

"The beauty is spectacular and it's awe-inspiring," Liebenberg said of witnessing a total solar eclipse.

He experienced his first one in 1954 in Mellen, Wisconsin. Since then, he's traveled the globe visiting places as remote as Pukapuka, a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean, to take in that small window of opportunity to study the sun's outer atmosphere.

"I was trying to answer — or still am — the question of what is the energy mechanism that heats this corona to a million degrees? Thermo dynamically, that's not possible. Heat flows from the interior of the sun at high temperature out to the surface of the sun to 5,500 degrees. But it's more than 100 times that temperature in the solar corona and how does that happen?" Liebenberg explained.

Liebenberg's quest for that answer inadvertently made him a record holder: He has spent over two and half hours in totality. A 1973 flight on a Concorde jet accounts for 74 minutes of that total.

SEE MORE: Why The Total Solar Eclipse Is A Bigger Deal Than You'd Think

"The blue light against a very dark background, a marvelous sight," Liebenberg said. "The analysis allowed us to find several regions in the corona where this five-minute periodicity did show up. And that was very rewarding because I think it was the first time people had seen the appearance of these waves in the corona."

After traveling to remote places around the world for decades, it seems only fitting that for his 27th total solar eclipse, Liebenberg will only need to step out onto his driveway to view it.

"This is just a magnificent and unusual feature in the heavens, and it provides an opportunity for people to experience this feeling of being overtaken by the shadow and having a view of this splendid corona," Liebenberg said.

Millions of people do plan to experience the eclipse, but some are having a hard time finding the glasses or hand-held viewers needed to protect their eyes from ultraviolet and infrared light.

Eye protection has been hard to come by because once glasses and viewers are stocked, they fly off the shelves. And not all are created equal. Some don't actually protect the eye, so if you're in the market for them, check out the American Astronomical Society.

It created a webpage with a list of where to buy reputable glasses and viewers. If you're in the path of totality, you can remove the glasses or viewers once the moon is completely covering the sun. But if you're not, you need to keep your eyes covered for the entire time. If you can't get your hands on glasses or viewers, astronomer Rick Fienberg has some suggestions.

"Look on the ground and see sunlight dappling through the little holes through the leaves and the little dapples of sunlight will be crescents during the partial eclipse.  If you don't have any trees around and you still want to do that, grab a spaghetti colander, look at its shadow on the ground, all the little holes on the bottom of the colander will project little images of the crescent sun on the ground in the same pattern as the holes in the colander. And if you don't have anything, no trees, no colander, just do this [put your hands over each other at an angle to create a grid] with your fingers and put the sun at your back and look at the shadow of your fingers at the ground and you'll see the little crescent suns projected from the space between your fingers," Fienberg, who is also the press officer for the American Astronomical Society, told Newsy.

<![CDATA[Instead Of Being Cut Down, Some 400-Ton Trees Are Just Transplanted]]> Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:42:00 -0500
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We cut down around 15 billion trees a year, but there are trees people will go to great lengths to keep alive. Some hold special significance for people and can be landmarks or historically famous. Yet we only recently discovered how to successfully transplant trees weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

To move the largest of trees, workers prune their roots to temporarily stop growth. They install steel pipes and airbags beneath the tree so it can be pushed out of the ground and towed to its new home. 

The moving process usually takes less than a day. In Boise, Idaho, a team was able to conserve an 800,000-pound tree given to the city by the "Father of National Parks" by moving it a few city blocks in about 10 hours.

SEE MORE: It's Getting Harder And Harder For Trees To Bounce Back From Drought

It does take a bit of cash to perform transplants, however. A few years ago, The University of Michigan spent about $400,000 to move a 700,000-pound oak tree 100 yards.

But the process is pretty successful at keeping those trees alive. In the last 15 years, the University of Texas at Austin says it transplanted 46 trees with a 93 percent survival rate. 

<![CDATA[Driver Safety Is Important — Especially During A Total Solar Eclipse]]> Fri, 18 Aug 2017 07:26:00 -0500
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The upcoming total solar eclipse is being called "Sturgis for stargazers" and the biggest astronomical event of the decade.

But the Federal Highway Administration is calling it one of the largest driver distractions in years. It makes sense: When the moon slides over the sun on Aug. 21, driving conditions will be anything but typical. 

For one, it's going to get dark — really dark — in the middle of the day. Sure, it's just for two minutes, but headlights are a must during the event. And the FHWA advises people to turn their headlights on manually — don't rely on automatic lights to kick on. 

SEE MORE: The Unofficial Solar Eclipse Theme Song Has An Interesting Origin

Pedestrians will be out in droves. Almost two-thirds of the nation's population lives within a day's drive of the total solar eclipse path. Many will have recently traveled to the area, won't be familiar with their surroundings and will probably be staring at the sky.  

The FHWA strongly advises drivers to plan ahead instead of pulling over to watch the eclipse. But it says several million drivers along the path could still end up stopping anyway, so that's another thing to watch out for. 

The last time the path of totality of a total solar eclipse moved across the entire U.S. was 1918, and car accidents weren't exactly a major concern. 

With a bit of practicality, they don't have to be this time around, either. 

<![CDATA[Why You Should Be Diluting Your Whiskey]]> Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:50:00 -0500
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Watering down alcoholic beverages might make them taste worse — unless it's whiskey.

Some whiskey drinkers say adding a splash of water makes it taste better. Now, scientists put the claim to the test and found those aficionados were right.

The team tested how different concentrations of water, alcohol and ethanol interact with the molecule that gives whiskey its distinct taste.

SEE MORE: Space Whiskey Tastes Different From Its Earthbound Variety

The scientists found when whiskey is diluted, flavor molecules rise to the surface.

Those molecules bunch together, enhancing the taste and aroma. When the researchers added more alcohol to the mix, they saw the process reverse, with the taste-makers spreading out again.

Unfortunately, the study's authors didn't find the perfect water-to-whiskey ratio, but they did say to go easy on the H20 — too much could make the whiskey tasteless.

<![CDATA[The Unofficial Solar Eclipse Theme Song Has An Interesting Origin]]> Thu, 17 Aug 2017 10:59:00 -0500
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Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" from the 1980s is getting new love thanks to the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.

Tyler will perform the song live Monday aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise just as the moon crosses the sun's path. 

But the song doesn't mean what you might think. It's actually about ... vampires.

More specifically, vampires in love. Before the song's title changed to "Total Eclipse of the Heart," it was called "Vampires in Love."

SEE MORE: The Nonscientific Reasons Everyone Is Geeking Out Over The Eclipse

Back in 2002, the man who wrote the song told Playbill, "If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines. It's all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in dark."

Luckily, the cruise ship where Tyler will perform should have a complete view of the eclipse when she hits the chorus — so that whole darkness theme still totally works.

<![CDATA[NASA Is Sending Bacteria Into The Sky During The Total Solar Eclipse]]> Thu, 17 Aug 2017 10:28:00 -0500
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NASA and Montana State University are ready to send loads of bacteria into the stratosphere. But don't worry; it's all for science.

Teams across the U.S. will release about 100 balloons during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. They'll float around 85,000 feet in the air, and each balloon will have cameras for video and photos, as well as a tracker.

Some of those balloons will also carry samples of a highly resistant bacteria. NASA scientists want to see how it reacts to Mars-like conditions.

The upper part of Earth's stratosphere has conditions very similar to Mars' atmosphere at the surface. There, the air is thin, and the environment is cold and full of radiation. During the eclipse, Earth's atmospheric conditions will become even more like Mars.

The experiment aims to test the limits of living things on Earth.

SEE MORE: You Could Be NASA's New Planetary Protection Officer

Eventually, the balloons will pop, and devices will send the data and bacteria down to the ground. NASA will compare the stratosphere bacteria with samples left on Earth to see what changed.

Researchers say they hope to learn a lot from the balloon experiment. And here's a bonus: The onboard cameras will livestream the eclipse on the internet for millions to watch.

<![CDATA[There's Only One Real Danger During A Total Solar Eclipse]]> Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:09:00 -0500
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It's been almost 100 years since most of the U.S. saw a total solar eclipse. Even if you've never seen one yourself, you might've heard how they can have surreal or even dangerous effects. Luckily, they're mostly myths.

First: An eclipse will not change how gravity works. The moon will keep orbiting the way it always does.

"It's not closer to the sun than it is normally; it's not interacting with the sun in any way unusually," says Dr. Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri.

The moon does not make sunlight any more dangerous.

"I've heard people say — 'But the moon's atmosphere focuses the light of the sun and makes it stronger!'" Speck says. "The moon doesn't have an atmosphere, so we really don't have to worry about that."

And the sun itself is no more dangerous than usual.

"[The corona is] so hot that it's giving off lots of X-rays and ultraviolet light," Speck says. "We know X-rays are bad for us. But the corona's doing it all the time. The corona is always there."

And so are Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere — the things that protect us from cosmic radiation in the first place.

SEE MORE: Learning A Ton Of New Science From 2 Minutes Of A Total Solar Eclipse

But it will be dark — so dark that some animals seem to think it's suddenly nighttime. During some previous eclipses, scientists have recorded cases of bats coming out to hunt, crickets starting to chirp and cows heading back to the barn.

"The only thing that is at all dangerous about solar eclipse day is that on a normal day you know you shouldn't look at the sun," Speck says. "And on this day, you want to."

So, be sure to wear approved eclipse eye protection. At any point other than totality, the sunlight from the eclipse is still strong enough to permanently damage your eyes.

<![CDATA[Smart Fabric Could Act Like A Shield In A Gas Attack]]> Thu, 17 Aug 2017 08:34:18 -0500
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A new fabric could make a difference in a nerve gas attack.

During conflicts like in Syria and Yemen, gas attacks are common. A poisonous chemical like sarin gas can injure or kill a person if it's inhaled. And in several instances, attacks like these did kill civilians.

But the fabric that researchers created can negate the effects of the deadly gas. 

SEE MORE: US Says Russia Tried To Hide Syrian Regime's Involvement In Gas Attack

The textile — made of cotton infused with carbon nitride — also changes color when it's exposed to a chemical.

The fabric could be woven into a T-shirt, scarf — or any type of clothing. Wearers could use that to cover their faces and shield themselves.

The developers didn't say if the fabric would eventually be for sale or what the cost might be. But if it's manufactured on a larger scale, it could help those in conflict areas.

<![CDATA[These Robots Can 'Heal' Themselves]]> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 16:42:00 -0500
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Most robots tend to be made of stiff metal or plastics. But a recent push for more soft, flexible bots could be useful for everything from health care to space exploration.

Soft robots aren't as durable as their metallic counterparts, but they're getting better. Now, a team of engineers made a set that can self-repair.

SEE MORE: Soft Robots Could Make Human Interactions With Robots Safer

The bots are made of temperature-sensitive rubber. When heated, its polymers break down and move to areas that need sealing. As it cools, those polymers form a bond, closing the gap.

The material seems to be efficient. The scientists said the robots repaired themselves almost perfectly during tests.

The team said although these robots don't have a specific application, the eco-friendly manufacturing method could be a model for making other soft bots.

<![CDATA[Astronauts On The International Space Station Just Got A Big Delivery]]> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 13:07:00 -0500
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SpaceX's Dragon capsule made it to the International Space Station carrying some really important things — like ice cream.

The capsule landed early Wednesday and delivered over 3 tons of NASA cargo and research supplies to astronauts on the ISS.

The haul includes supplies for various projects. One experiment aims to grow crystals of a protein believed to be a strong contributor to Parkinson's disease.

Earth's gravity stunts the protein's growth on the ground, but researchers in space don't have that problem.

SEE MORE: NASA's Saturn Probe Has One Final Mission Before Its Fiery End

NASA also put 20 live mice in the bundle so researchers can study the effects of long-term space missions. Another experiment will collect data on cosmic rays.

The ice cream, you might imagine, isn't for science; there was just some extra room.

The capsule is expected to leave the ISS in September. NASA says it will bring back over 1.5 tons of science and supplies to Earth.

<![CDATA[Why The Total Solar Eclipse Is A Bigger Deal Than You'd Think]]> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 12:15:00 -0500
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Millions of people are expected to watch the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. But for scientists and reporters who cover space, the upcoming event is more than just an awe-inspiring sight.

Newsy chatted with Rick Fienberg, astronomer and press officer for the American Astronomical Society, and Tariq Malik, managing editor of, about the eclipse and how important it is to further understanding the sun.

SEE MORE: How An Eclipse Messes With Our Weather And The Power Grid

Get a deeper understanding of the stories that matter with Newsy's "The Why" — weekdays 7-9 p.m. ET.

<![CDATA[Direwolves Of 'Game Of Thrones' Lead To Dire Problems For Real Dogs]]> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 07:20:00 -0500
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When a movie or TV show gets as popular as "Game of Thrones," people adopt some of its trends — including animals the show made popular. But spoiler alert: That's not always good for the animals.

Siberian huskies have reportedly become quite popular as the closest possible stand in for direwolves, the fluffy yet ferocious symbols of House Stark.

A charity in the U.K. linked the popularity of "Game of Thrones" to a 700 percent increase in abandoned huskies in the country.

So now one of the show's stars, Peter Dinklage, is teaming up with PETA to encourage "Game of Thrones" fans not to go out and get the fluffy dogs on a whim.

SEE MORE: Bookies Give Odds For What Will Happen In 'Game Of Thrones' Season 7

He said: "Shelters are reporting that huskies are being abandoned, as often happens when dogs are bought on impulse. … If you're going to bring a dog into your family, make sure you're prepared for such a tremendous responsibility."

The American Kennel Club says huskies are very energetic and need lots of exercise. Their thick coats also require frequent brushing, and some pet owners just aren't up to the task.

This is an unfortunate trend in entertainment — people fall in love with on-screen animals and want to adopt their own. But they aren't always able or willing to care for those animals.

After films like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and "101 Dalmatians" came out, the featured dog breeds saw increased interest, but many of the dogs were abandoned.

Here's hoping "Game of Thrones" fans don't decide to start adopting dragons next.

<![CDATA[Bill Gates Makes His Largest Charitable Donation In 17 Years]]> Tue, 15 Aug 2017 17:23:00 -0500
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Bill Gates recently made his largest charitable donation in 17 years

Earlier in June, Gates donated 64 million shares of Microsoft to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The shares were valued at $4.6 billion.

But we didn't find out until Tuesday what some of those donations were for. 

The billionaire announced on his blog a new "Mosquito Wars" project. For every person who reads the blog post, signs up or signs in with the project and takes a short quiz, Gates said he'll donate a bed net to a family in need. By the end of the giveaway, Gates hopes to distribute 100,000 nets.

SEE MORE: Bill Gates Thinks Robots Should Pay Taxes Like The Rest Of Us

Since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated over $7 billion to eradicate malaria and other infectious diseases. That money has gone to vaccine initiativestreatment improvements and research.

Beyond his foundation, Gates said global malaria funding went up by 1,000 percent between 2000 and 2015. And since the early 2000s, the number of malaria-related deaths has been cut in half.

Gates says that reduction is "nothing short of miraculous," but notes the world still has a long way to go. In 2015, there were about 212 million cases of malaria, as well as 429,000 deaths. Ninety percent of those cases were in sub-Saharan Africa.

New treatment and control initiatives include the aforementioned bed tents, new drugs, mosquito genome editing and sugar baits.

With these developments in disease control, Gates thinks the world can eradicate malaria within his lifetime.

<![CDATA[Using Smile Emoji At Work May Send A Different Message Than You'd Want]]> Tue, 15 Aug 2017 16:19:00 -0500
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People who smile might seem more attractive, trustworthy, warm and competent. Some studies even suggest when people meet, they remember a smile more than words.

But smiling emoji? Not so much. According to a new study, they don't convey the same emotions as real smiles, especially in the workplace.

Participants read work-related emails, and some of those messages had smiley emoji. The emails with those emoji were seen as having no real emotional resonance, and the sender was seen as incompetent.

SEE MORE: SoftBank-IBM Partnership Could Make Robots Better At Human Emotions

Participants were also more likely to guess that an emoji user in those emails was a woman. But those gender perceptions didn't shape how readers felt about senders' competency or emotional warmth.

So if you have the urge to send a smile to a co-worker, you might send a pic of someone smiling instead of an emoji. Researchers found those who sent photos were seen as more friendly and competent than emoji senders.

<![CDATA[NASA's Saturn Probe Has One Final Mission Before Its Fiery End]]> Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:17:00 -0500
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After 13 years orbiting Saturn, NASA's Cassini probe entered the final phase of its mission Monday.

That final mission involves five deep dives into Saturn's atmosphere. It'll be the first time the planet's upper atmosphere has been explored.

During its mission, Cassini learned a lot about Saturn's neck of the solar system. The craft has spent a lot of time learning about Saturn's moons, including spotting possible signs of life on Enceladus.

In addition to signs of life, Enceladus has hot springs on its surface.

And Cassini found another of Saturn's moons, Titan, to be incredibly Earth-like. The moon has rain cycles — albeit with liquid methane instead of water — which feed rivers, lakes and seas.

SEE MORE: Voyager Spacecraft To Celebrate 40 Years In Space

The spacecraft also witnessed what some scientists think was the birth of a new moon

But just because it's almost time to say goodbye doesn't mean Cassini is done yet. There's still a lot we can learn from each pass into the atmosphere.

While in the atmosphere, the spacecraft will make high-resolution observations of Saturn's auroras, take temperature readings and make radar scans deep into the atmosphere.

And then in September, Cassini will make one final plunge into the planet's atmosphere, and the spacecraft will burn up.

<![CDATA[As Many As Half A Million Yemenis May Have Cholera Amidst Civil War]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 19:53:00 -0500
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The cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen is reaching new extremes with half a million suspected cases of the deadly disease, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 2,000 people have died from the disease since April.

The WHO says nearly all patients "with suspected cholera who can access health services are surviving." But the outbreak has been amplified by an ongoing civil war; Houthi rebels, who are Shiite, oppose the current Sunni-backed government. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is backed by a coalition of mainly Arab and Gulf states, which has conducted airstrikes against the rebels. 

Those airstrikes damaged or destroyed several of the country's health facilities; around half of them are currently unable to operate.

Right now, 15 million Yemenis don't have access to basic health care. The cholera outbreak there has reached historic levels, based on numbers from the charity Oxfam.

SEE MORE: Trump: Lebanon Is Fighting A Group That Has Seats In Its Government

Making matters even worse, the country is at the brink of famine, according to a joint statement from UNICEF, the WHO and the World Food Programme, or WFP. 

"The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60 per cent of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from," the statement reads. "Nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition. A vicious combination."

<![CDATA[1 In 8 US Adults Might Have Alcohol Use Disorder]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 17:54:00 -0500
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Since the early 2000s, researchers estimate the number of American adults with alcohol use disorder jumped 49 percent. That means 1 in 8 American adults could be classified as a person with alcoholism.

In certain groups, the trend was even more pronounced. The American Medical Association found the rate of alcoholic disorders rose by nearly 84 percent among women and 93 percent among black people.

SEE MORE: America's Beer-Drinking Habit Is Making This Mexican Town Thirsty

But those numbers aren't definitive. Different federal reports use different methods to gather their results, which can lead to wildly different conclusions. The AMA survey, for example, classified respondents as people with alcoholism if they reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or three symptoms of alcohol dependency.

But a different study found the number is actually closer to 14 percent, but another showed decreasing alcoholism rates during the same period.

Scientists think the discrepancies might be fixed if studies reviewed one variable at a time. And there's good reason to: No matter which study you look at, alcohol still contributes to about 88,000 deaths every year in the U.S.

<![CDATA[The Nonscientific Reasons Everyone Is Geeking Out Over The Eclipse]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 15:48:00 -0500
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Hotels are booked, solar eclipse glasses are selling out and the U.S. Department of Transportation has warned drivers of additional traffic on Aug. 21. To say there's a lot of excitement over the total solar eclipse is an understatement.

The Transportation Department says about 200 million people live within a day's drive to a prime total solar eclipse viewing spot.

But why is this such a big deal, and why are people going out of their way to see it? Those are just some of the questions we asked Phil Plait, aka the "Bad Astronomer."

SEE MORE: How An Eclipse Messes With Our Weather And The Power Grid

Get a deeper understanding of the stories that matter with Newsy's "The Why" — weekdays 7-9 p.m. ET.

<![CDATA[Learning A Ton Of New Science From 2 Minutes Of A Total Solar Eclipse]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 13:49:00 -0500
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During August's total solar eclipse, skies over the U.S. will darken in the middle of the day, giving scientists a chance for some rare research.

"It's very hard to fake the thing the eclipse does for us," says Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri. "In blocking out the sun, it's able to make it so we have a dark sky. You can't do that from the ground with putting up your hand and making it dark."

Researchers will fan out across the U.S. to gather what's expected to be some of the most detailed data on solar eclipses ever: from its effects on Earth's atmosphere to subtle evidence of relativity. We'll explain.

SEE MORE: How An Eclipse Messes With Our Weather And The Power Grid

When the moon blocks the sun's light, we can measure how the mass of the sun bends light from stars on its far side. Our telescopes are much better than they were in 1919, when scientists first used an eclipse to study relativity.

"That allows us to test the details, not just, 'Does general relativity pan out?' We know it does," Speck says. "We've already done that. But what are the details of how light is affected by gravity?"

And, maybe most importantly, scientists will study the few parts of the sun that are usually too bright to see.

"If we want to study either the corona, which is the extended atmosphere of the sun, or the stuff that's closest in to the sun, we absolutely have to do it during an eclipse," Speck says. "And if we want to do it from the ground, we have to do it from an eclipse."

That's partly why scientists are still trying to answer questions about the corona — like how it reaches its sizzling temperatures.

"We don't fully understand where the energy comes from to heat it up so much. We're pretty sure it's to do with the magnetic field, but we don't know for sure," Speck says. "What we're able to do during an eclipse with looking at the corona is looking at, 'How does the sun fuel? How does it give energy to the corona?'"

They'll be racing against the clock, too. When the moon completely obscures the sun, astronomers and astrophysicists usually have less than three minutes to gather critical data.

SEE MORE: One Airline Will Let A Lucky Few Watch The Solar Eclipse From The Sky

But observers in the U.S. are lucky. We haven't seen an eclipse this thorough since 1918 — and this time, our technology lets us combine observations from the eclipse's entire path.

"Instead of getting the couple of minutes you get of darkness, we can make it seem like we have 90 minutes — the whole time it takes to go across [the U.S.]," Speck says.

<![CDATA[Isolation Could Become A Bigger Public Health Threat Than Obesity]]> Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:26:00 -0500
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You might enjoy your alone time, but we've evolved to be highly complex social creatures. Some scientists say socialization is a "fundamental human need."

We certainly notice when we're by ourselves. Prolonged bouts of social confinement and isolation can lead to symptoms associated with PTSD, as well as anxiety, hopelessness and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide.

Although it's easier than ever to stay in contact with people, these days, more than a quarter of Americans live alone, and half aren't married.

The problem also gets worse as people get older. It's estimated more than 40 million U.S. adults over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.

SEE MORE: Our Lonely Galaxy Probably Exists In The Middle Of Cosmic Nowhere

Some psychologists say social isolation, loneliness and living alone might pose the same risk for premature death as obesity. And as people live longer, loneliness has more time to take hold.

There's no clear solution. Some researchers say children should learn more about social skills in school. Others say financial planning might help because much of people's social life stems from work.

But doing simple things might also keep loneliness at bay. Experts say greeting people with a "hello" can do more good than you'd think.

<![CDATA[It's Getting Harder And Harder For Trees To Bounce Back From Drought]]> Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:40:00 -0500
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During a drought, rain might bring some relief, but it doesn't solve everything. Ecosystems can take years to bounce back from a water shortage, and as droughts become more frequent and severe, some trees might start to disappear.

Researchers are starting to understand just what trees have to do to survive when it gets too dry. Without sufficient water, trees can't photosynthesize, so they burn stored fuel. And it takes time for trees to recover from that stress — even when a drought ends and more water is available.

If a region is naturally hot and dry, recovery can take longer. And if an area has multiple droughts in a short time, plants and trees often can't fully recover.

The Amazon rainforest, for example, had droughts in 2005 and 2010. Satellite images showed the forest hadn't recovered from the first before the second hit, and trees started dying.

SEE MORE: America's Trees Are Trying To Outrun Threats By Heading North And West

Researchers think climate change could make severe droughts more common and that the stress might push trees to a breaking point more often. Fewer trees would mean more carbon in the atmosphere, which would lead to more warming.

It's not exactly good news, but understanding the scope of the problem is a first step. The better we understand how trees respond to drought, the more we can do to help them get through it.

<![CDATA[Transplanting Pig Organs Into Humans Could Happen In The Near Future]]> Thu, 10 Aug 2017 21:25:00 -0500
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Soon, people who need an organ transplant may go to their local pig farm.

OK, it probably won't be quite that easy. But new research has found that with some gene editing, we might soon be able to use pig organs in humans.

Yes, apparently that's possible. The organs are nearly the same size and function similarly enough to human organs that scientists think it could work.

The idea has been around for a while. But in the late '90s, the discovery of a type of retrovirus in pig DNA complicated matters.

Researchers showed that the retrovirus could spread from pig cells to humans in laboratory settings. And if it did spread, there were worries it would cause immunodeficiencies or tumors. But doctors have used some pig parts — like heart valves or pancreas cells — as replacements in humans before and there was no evidence of infection in those cases.

SEE MORE: A Gene-Editing Milestone May Mean Fewer Hereditary Issues Someday

Now, scientists have used CRISPR to remove the retroviruses from the DNA in a cell. They then placed that cell into an egg, which developed into an embryo, which eventually became piglets. And they seem healthy, even with edited DNA.

The piglets that developed were genetically identical to the pig that supplied that first cell. So not only did they manage to edit a pig's genome, but they also created clones. Science is pretty cool.

There's still a lot of work to be done to make sure using pig organs in human bodies is actually safe. But the lead researcher in the study told The New York Times the first transplants could happen within two years.