DAILY DOSE: U.N. General Assembly highlights Covid-19 vaccine inequities; Researchers go hunting Neandertal-style.

With the United Nations General Assembly churning through speeches by world leaders, the unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines around the globe is likely to be thrust to the forefront. Per the Associated Press, “The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution will come into sharper focus Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots step to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders. Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches — many of them delivered remotely exactly because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach.” We share people’s distress but still hold out hope countries with more resources will eventually do the right thing. https://bit.ly/3nVHQ5c


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The Martian version of Kitty Hawk continues unabated but slightly more restrained. Per space.com, “NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is getting ready for its 14th Red Planet flight, but the thinning Martian air is making such sorties more and more challenging. The coming sortie, which could occur any day now, is a straightforward hop compared to some of the more daring scouting flights that Ingenuity has been making to aid NASA’s Perseverance rover, mission team members said in a recent update. There’s a good reason for the simplicity: The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper will test higher rotor spin speeds to see if it can keep flying in rapidly changing seasonal atmospheric conditions on Mars.” You can follow Perseverance’s progress on its dedicated Twitter feed. https://bit.ly/2W4MfXR


Researchers believe they have discovered the real world natural disaster that inspired the Biblical story of Sodom and Gammorah. Per Nature, “We present evidence that in ~ 1650 BCE (~ 3600 years ago), a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a ~ 50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A city-wide ~ 1.5-m-thick carbon-and-ash-rich destruction layer contains peak concentrations of shocked quartz (~ 5–10 GPa); melted pottery and mudbricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; Fe- and Si-rich spherules; CaCO3 spherules from melted plaster; and melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz. Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. Amid city-side devastation, the airburst demolished 12+ m of the 4-to-5-story palace complex and the massive 4-m-thick mudbrick rampart, while causing extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans.” Tell el-Hammam (also Tall al-Hammam) is an archaeological site in Jordan, in the eastern part of the lower Jordan Valley close to the mouth of the Jordan River. The site has substantial remains from the Chalcolithic, Early, Intermediate and Middle Bronze Age, and from Iron Age II. There are different attempts at identifying the site with a biblical city. https://go.nature.com/2ZkCLJj


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Spanish researchers studying potential Neandertal behavior took an ingenuitive approach to their work. Per Vice, “To support their audacious theory about Neanderthals’ diets and habits, a team of scientists ventured to Spanish caves after dark and caught hundreds of roosting birds with their bare hands and a net. Their new research may upend a longstanding paradigm about prehistoric hominids and add to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals coordinated on complex behaviors and used advanced technology like fire. While the controlled use of fire by Neanderthals has been debated for some time, scholars have uncovered evidence that Neanderthals used fire and may have been adept at creating it, too.“ Those old caveman stereotypes look more ill-conceived and ill-informed by the day. https://bit.ly/3u3VK6p


While it’s hard to view the wildfires raging on the West Coast of America as anything but an unmitigated disaster, there are pockets of good news coming out. Per Smithsonian Magazine, “Last week, California’s raging KNP Complex Fire encroached on a grove of famous trees in Sequoia National Park. Firefighters raced to wrap the ancient trees in fire-retardant foil and cleared flammable vegetation in the area. Officials say as of yesterday, the park’s most famous sequoias are safe from the blaze. ‘As of right now, we don’t have any damage to any of our trees,’ said fire information officer Mark Garrett.” Welcome news for sure, but you really have to ask how long will it be before another wildfire threatens natural treasures like Sequoia National Park. https://bit.ly/3u7s1td

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: Basil D Soufi.


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