DAILY DOSE: NASA command mistake causes it to lose contact with Voyager 2 in interstellar space; Controversial UAE-UN climate chief is the subject of… more controversy.

NASA has lost contact with the Voyager 2 spacecraft, billions of miles away in interstellar space, following an incorrect command that tilted its antenna away from Earth. The error resulted in a mere 2% shift in the spacecraft’s antenna but was sufficient to interrupt communications. Despite the long odds, NASA’s Canberra, Australia-based dish antenna, part of the Deep Space Network, is currently scanning for any signals from Voyager 2, over 12 billion miles distant, a transmission requiring more than 18 hours to reach Earth. The Canberra antenna will attempt to send the correct command to Voyager 2 over the coming week, hoping to reestablish contact. If unsuccessful, NASA must wait until October for an automatic spacecraft reset expected to restore communication. Launched in 1977 to investigate the outer planets, Voyager 2’s identical twin, Voyager 1, remains in communication with Earth, now nearly 15 billion miles away, marking it as humanity’s furthest spacecraft. (Associated Press)

A leaked document revealed a list of “sensitive issues” related to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will host the upcoming UN climate summit, Cop28. The UAE government-approved “strategic messages” tackle topics ranging from increased oil and gas production to human rights issues. The document avoids reference to fossil fuels but mentions renewable energy and hydrogen. The UAE, ranked third for plans to expand oil and gas production, faces criticism for increasing emissions and its president’s dual role as CEO of the UAE national oil company, Adnoc. The document defends the UAE’s commitment to reduce emissions, build a future energy system, and achieve net zero by 2050, but the Climate Action Tracker consortium rates these plans as “insufficient.” The UAE’s high per capita emissions are also listed as an issue. Critics argue that the UN climate talks have been co-opted by the oil and gas industry. The document also lists responses to non-climate-related sensitive issues, including human rights and freedom of expression. (The Guardian)

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Asphalt and concrete surfaces in direct sunlight can reach up to 82°C (180°F), causing burns in a fraction of a second, warns Dr. Kevin Foster of the Arizona Burn Center. This risk is more pronounced as heat waves continue across the globe. Such high surface temperatures significantly increase the air temperature and are a health risk during extreme heat events. Urban development creates “urban heat islands” where impermeable structures like buildings and roads replace natural, permeable surfaces. These areas typically have higher temperatures than nearby rural regions, increasing health risks, especially for vulnerable populations. Urban heat islands are created through factors like lack of green spaces, obstructive structures, and heat-absorbing surfaces. Green spaces play a vital role in reducing temperatures through evapotranspiration, emphasizing the importance of balanced urban development. For instance, Athens has created “pocket parks” to lower temperatures and enhance the quality of life. (Reuters)

Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots like ChatGPT often “hallucinate” or spout falsehoods, creating challenges for businesses and organizations that use AI for high-stakes tasks like psychotherapy or legal briefs. Major AI developers such as Anthropic and OpenAI are working to improve the accuracy of these large language models. However, it remains uncertain if they will ever be reliable enough to safely dispense medical advice or other critical information. This issue, termed the “mismatch” between technology and proposed use cases, may not be completely fixable, according to linguistics professor Emily Bender. Despite these limitations, the AI industry continues to grow, with its potential contribution to the global economy estimated between $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion. While some businesses find the “hallucinations” useful for generating novel ideas, most agree that accuracy needs improvement to enhance the potential and safety of AI applications. (Associated Press)

The Australian Space Agency has identified a large piece of space debris discovered on a West Australian beach, likely originating from an Indian launch vehicle. The cylindrical object, 2.5m high and partly made of a gold-coloured woven material, was found near Green Head, 250km north of Perth. Initial speculation suggested it might be part of a downed airliner. However, after investigation, the space agency believes it’s from an expended third stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation. The organisation recently successfully launched a satellite. Western Australia Premier, Roger Cook, suggested the debris could be displayed in a museum, alongside the remains of Skylab, the USA’s first space station that fell back to Earth in WA in 1979. (The Guardian)

A recent cohort study confirmed a link between maternal fiber intake during pregnancy and children’s brain development, suggesting that undernutrition in pregnant women is associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental delay in their children. The Japanese researchers observed that mothers who consumed less dietary fiber during pregnancy had children more likely to show delays in areas like communication skills, problem-solving abilities, personal-social skills, and both large and small body part movement coordination. The study analyzed over 76,000 mother-infant pairs, tracking dietary information from the second and third trimesters and assessing developmental delays when the children reached three years old. However, they noted that other nutrients could impact the results and that they could not consider dietary fiber intake from supplements. The researchers emphasized the importance of nutritional guidance during pregnancy to reduce potential future health issues for children. (Frontiers In Blog)

The new €1.4bn European Space Agency (ESA) space telescope, Euclid, has returned its first test images, marking a key milestone in its mission to map the cosmos and explore dark matter and dark energy. These entities, while not directly detectable, significantly influence the shape and expansion of the universe. Euclid was launched on 1 July from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US and is stationed 1.5 million km from Earth at the 2nd Lagrange Point, a gravitational sweetspot that saves fuel and avoids light and temperature swings. Euclid’s two cameras, VIS for visible light and NISP for near-infrared, captured test images with numerous stars and galaxies. However, stray sunlight entered the VIS camera due to a hardware gap, an issue that won’t affect Euclid’s survey if specific orientations are maintained. Euclid will map dark matter by observing how its mass distorts light from distant galaxies. For dark energy, the force accelerating universal expansion, Euclid will map the distribution of galaxies. While not definitive, this should refine the range of theories regarding the nature of dark matter and dark energy. The VIS instrument’s development was led from the UK. (BBC News)

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

WORDS: The Biology Guy.


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