100,000 Americans dead—and counting—as COVID-19 ravages US

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 16:45:00 Source: arstechnica

More than 100,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 according to several pandemic-tracking efforts—and the pandemic is far from over. As the country reached the grim milestone, many areas were still seeing increasing case counts, and researchers have suggested that a second wave of infection is looming.

The risk of continued spread remains high as all 50 states have now begun easing restrictions aimed at curbing transmission.

So far, the US leads the world in the number of confirmed cases and deaths, with a 1.7 million cases and over 100,000 deaths. The country with the next highest numbers is Brazil, which has nearly 400,000 cases and over 24,500 deaths.

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Poor weather scrubs SpaceX’s historic launch attempt [Updated]

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 16:30:00 Source: arstechnica

4:20pm ET Saturday: SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft Wednesday a little less than 17 minutes before liftoff. Although weather conditions were improving at the launch site—thunderstorms rolled through earlier in the day, and a tornado warning was issued for Kennedy Space Center—they did not improve fast enough.

Informed of the scrub, Dragon's commander Doug Hurley said from inside the spacecraft, "It was a good effort by the teams, and we understand."

There were no technical issues with Dragon or the rocket. Now SpaceX will work to recycle the systems for another launch attempt on Saturday at 3:22pm ET (19:22 UTC). The reason for skipping the next two days is an unfavorable phase angle for Dragon's approach to the International Space Station. Weather is forecast to be somewhat better on Saturday, but it is no slam-dunk. A back-up opportunity will be available on Sunday.

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100,000 dead: US tops grim milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 16:30:00 Source: arstechnica

More than 100,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19 according to several pandemic tracking efforts—and the pandemic is far from over. As the country reached the grim milestone, many areas were still seeing increasing case counts, and researchers have suggested that a second wave of infection is looming.

The risk of continued spread remains high as all 50 states have now begun easing restrictions aimed at curbing transmission.

So far, the US leads the world in the number of confirmed cases and deaths, with a 1.7 million cases and over 100,000 deaths. The country with the next highest numbers is Brazil, which has nearly 400,000 cases and over 24,500 deaths.

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Watch SpaceX Launch People To Space For the First Time Live [Updated]

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 16:30:00 Source: slashdot

SpaceX is set to mark a huge milestone in its own company history, with a first-ever crewed spaceflight set to take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida later today. From a report: The mission is Commercial Crew Demo-2, the culmination of its Crew Dragon human spacecraft development program, which will carry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. The launch is currently set to take off from Kennedy Space Center at 4:33 p.m. EDT (1:33 p.m. PDT), though that'll depend on weather conditions. Those haven't been looking too favorable over the past few days, but SpaceX and NASA have said they could make the call as late as around 45 minutes prior to the planned launch time about whether to delay. If today's attempt is scrubbed, there are backup opportunities on the schedule for May 30 and May 31. UPDATE: The launch has been scrubbed due to weather conditions. NASA and SpaceX will reattempt on Saturday. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Watch SpaceX Launch People To Space For the First Time Live

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 16:14:59 Source: slashdot

SpaceX is set to mark a huge milestone in its own company history, with a first-ever crewed spaceflight set to take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida later today. From a report: The mission is Commercial Crew Demo-2, the culmination of its Crew Dragon human spacecraft development program, which will carry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. The launch is currently set to take off from Kennedy Space Center at 4:33 p.m. EDT (1:33 p.m. PDT), though that'll depend on weather conditions. Those haven't been looking too favorable over the past few days, but SpaceX and NASA have said they could make the call as late as around 45 minutes prior to the planned launch time about whether to delay. If today's attempt is scrubbed, there are backup opportunities on the schedule for May 30 and May 31. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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SpaceX and NASA counting down to launch under ominous skies

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 14:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Now that humans are about to lift off from the United States into orbit again, the constraints surrounding launch weather are heightened. To that end, we're watching conditions closely today in advance of a historic launch of a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft at 4:33pm ET (20:33 UTC).

This will be the first launch of humans into orbit from the United States since the space shuttle retired in 2011, and people who remember that program will recall plenty of scrubs. For today's mission, we need to track weather both at the launch site for liftoff, and down range in case of potential emergencies with the rocket during the countdown or after it launches.

For Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX's Launch Complex 39A, there are 12 different criteria near the pad that must be met before a launch can proceed. These include sustained winds of 30mph or below, no anvil thunderstorm clouds within 10 nautical miles, and various rules about clouds.

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Mysterious Radio Bursts Reveal Missing Matter in Cosmos

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 13:30:00 Source: slashdot

sciencehabit writes: Roughly half of the "normal" matter in the universe -- the stuff that makes up stars, planets, and even us -- exists as mere wisps of material floating in intergalactic space, according to cosmologists. But astronomers had no good way to confirm that, until now. A new study has used fast radio bursts (FRBs) -- powerful millisecondslong pulses of radio waves coming from distant galaxies -- to weigh intergalactic matter, and the results match up with predictions. "Using FRBs as a probe has been an exciting prospect for a while," says astronomer Paul Scholz of the University of Toronto, who was not involved with the work. "Now that we've built up a sample of local FRBs, we're starting to be able to do this. It's certainly exciting." Over the past few decades, cosmologists have compiled an inventory of the stuff that makes up the universe. Some 68% is dark energy, a mysterious force accelerating the universe's expansion. Another 27% is clumps of dark matter that hold galaxies together. Just 5% is so-called normal matter. Cosmologists know how much normal matter there should be; they can calculate it from how much the big bang should have produced and from the microwave ripple of this cosmic event that still echoes through space. But they can only see about half of it glowing as galaxies and dense gas clouds. The rest, a rarified, intergalactic gas of just one or two atoms in the volume of a typical office room, has been almost impossible to detect. That was until the first FRB burst on the scene in 2007. Because these sporadic blasts are so bright and short, FRBs were originally thought to come from an instrumental glitch, or a source on Earth. (Some early "FRBs" were found to come from a microwave oven at an observatory.) But as detections of FRBs piled up, astronomers realized they were coming from distant corners of the universe. Pinpointing them was difficult because of their rarity: Observers had to be pointing in the exact right direction to catch one, and they wouldn't have time to focus other scopes on the source. These days, telescopes that view large portions of the sky continuously are bagging more FRBs. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Tracing the trajectory of a 66 million-year-old asteroid impact

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 13:00:00 Source: arstechnica

You know that scene in every forensic crime drama where someone works out the angle the bullet was fired from and points back to the source? In the case of the Chicxulub asteroid impact and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction 66 million years ago, there’s no mystery about the shooter. (Space did it.) But the trajectory is interesting for other reasons, and researchers have long been trying to trace the path back out of the crater off the Yucatán coast.

Unsurprisingly, 66 million years have taken their toll on the crater, so researchers have offered several very different answers. Did the asteroid hit from the southeast at a very low angle? Did it come from the southwest at a moderate angle? Many studies that needed to model the impact have simply defaulted to a 90-degree strike and avoided the whole argument. The details actually matter, though, and precisely which rocks get vaporized—and which climate-changing gases they release—depends on that impact angle.

A lot of new research on the crater has been published recently thanks to a major expedition that included drilling a rock core down through the crater’s peak ring. (Impacts this violent leave a raised ring in the center rather than a single peak.) A new paper led by Imperial College London’s Gareth Collins makes the latest contribution using model simulations to see what impact angle best matches the observed characteristics of the crater.

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Fauci: Data is "Really Quite Evident" Against Hydroxychloroquine For Coronavirus

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 13:00:00 Source: slashdot

Anthony Fauci told CNN Wednesday that the scientific data "is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy" of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment. From a report: The comments came in response to news that France on Wednesday banned the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, after a large retrospective study in The Lancet found an increased risk of heart problems and death among coronavirus patients who took the anti-malarial drug. The World Health Organization also announced on Monday it had temporarily stopped running tests on the drug to review safety concerns. Fauci stopped short of saying the U.S. should follow France's lead, but told CNN it has become "more clear" that using hydroxychloroquine could lead to "adverse" cardiovascular effects. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Tracing the trajectory of a 66-million-year-old asteroid impact

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

You know that scene in every forensic crime drama where someone works out the angle the bullet was fired from and points back to the source? In the case of the Chicxulub asteroid impact and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction 66 million years ago, there’s no mystery about the shooter. (Space did it.) But the trajectory is interesting for other reasons, and researchers have long been trying to trace the path back out of the crater off the Yucatán coast.

Unsurprisingly, 66 million years have taken their toll on the crater, so researchers have offered several very different answers. Did the asteroid hit from the southeast at a very low angle? Did it come from the southwest at a moderate angle? Many studies that needed to model the impact have simply defaulted to a 90-degree strike and avoided the whole argument. The details actually matter, though, and precisely which rocks get vaporized—and which climate-changing gasses they release—depends on that impact angle.

A lot of new research on the crater has been published recently thanks to a major expedition that included drilling a rock core down through the crater’s peak ring. (Impacts this violent leave a raised ring in the center rather than a single peak.) A new paper led by Imperial College London’s Gareth Collins makes the latest contribution using model simulations to see what impact angle best matches the observed characteristics of the crater.

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New material releases hydrogen from water at near-perfect efficiency

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 12:15:01 Source: arstechnica

Solar energy is currently dominated by photovoltaic devices, which have ridden massive economies of scale to price dominance. But these devices are not necessarily the best choice in all circumstances. Unless battery technology improves, it's quite expensive to add significant storage to solar production. And there are types of transportation—long-distance rail, air—where batteries aren't a great solution. These limitations have made researchers maintain interest in alternate ways of using solar energy.

One alternative option is to use the energy to produce a portable fuel, like a hydrocarbon or hydrogen itself. This is possible to do with the electrons produced by photovoltaic systems, but the added steps can reduce efficiency. However, systems that convert sunlight more directly to fuel have suffered from even worse efficiencies.

But a Japanese group has decided to tackle this efficiency problem. The team started with a material that's not great—it only absorbs in the UV—but is well understood. And the researchers figured out how to optimize it so that its efficiency at splitting water to release hydrogen runs right up against the theoretical maximum. While it's not going to be useful on its own, it may point the way toward how to develop better materials.

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SpaceX may launch today, but weather is a huge concern

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 11:45:01 Source: arstechnica

Now that humans are about to lift off from the United States into orbit again, the constraints surrounding launch weather are heightened. To that end, we're watching conditions closely today in advance of a historic launch of a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft at 4:33pm ET (20:33 UTC).

This will be the first launch of humans into orbit from the United States since the space shuttle retired in 2011, and people who remember that program will recall plenty of scrubs. For today's launch, we need to watch conditions both at the launch site and down range to monitor for any emergencies with the rocket during the countdown or after it launches.

For Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX's Launch Complex 39A, there are 12 different criteria near the pad that must be met before a launch can proceed. These include sustained winds of 30mph or below, no anvil thunderstorm clouds within 10 nautical miles, and various rules about clouds.

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The CDC Says Its New 'Best Estimate' Is That 0.4 Percent of People With Symptoms and COVID-19 Will Die

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 09:14:56 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: In new guidance for mathematical modelers and public health officials, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating that about a third of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic. The CDC also says its "best estimate" is that 0.4% of people who show symptoms and have Covid-19 will die, and the agency estimates that 40% of coronavirus transmission is occurring before people feel sick. The numbers are part of five planning scenarios that "are being used by mathematical modelers throughout the federal government," according to the CDC. Four of those scenarios represent "the lower and upper bounds of disease severity and viral transmissibility." The fifth scenario is the CDC's "current best estimate about viral transmission and disease severity in the United States." In that scenario, the agency described its estimate that 0.4% of people who feel sick with Covid-19 will die. For people age 65 and older, the CDC puts that number at 1.3%. For people 49 and under, the agency estimated that 0.05% of symptomatic people will die. The CDC cautions that these numbers are based on real data collected by the agency before April 29 and are subject to change. Still, the "current best estimate" number of 0.4% is significantly lower than the 3.4% mortality rate the World Health Organization warned in early March. "As I see it, the 'best estimate' is extremely optimistic, and the 'worst case' scenario is fairly optimistic even as a best estimate. One certainly wants to consider worse scenarios," biologist Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington told CNN. "By introducing these as the official parameter sets for modeling efforts, CDC is influencing the models produced by federal agencies, but also the broader scientific discourse because there will be some pressure to use the CDC standard parameter sets in modeling papers going forward," he said. "Given that these parameter sets underestimate fatality by a substantial margin compared to current scientific consensus, this is deeply problematic." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Wuhan swabs 9 million people, tests 6.5 million for COVID-19 in 10 days

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 08:59:57 Source: arstechnica

When Chinese officials in the city of Wuhan discovered a cluster of just six COVID-19 cases around two weeks ago—the first cases there in more than a month—they quickly set an ambitious plan to test the entire city of roughly 11 million and crush a potential second wave of infection. And they initially planned to try to do it in just 10 days.

Ten days out, they nearly met that goal. Wuhan Municipal Health Commission swabbed more than 9 million residents and tested more than 6.5 million of those swabs for coronavirus genetic material between May 15 and May 24, according to state media.

Laboratories in the city went from conducting 46,000 tests a day to as many as 1.47 million in the screening sprint, according to The New York Times. The Times notes that in the US, New York tested 1.7 million people since March 4, a nearly three-month time frame, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.

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10 days, 9 million swabs, 6.5 million tests: Mass COVID-19 screen in Wuhan

Science - Posted On:2020-05-27 08:44:57 Source: arstechnica

When Chinese officials in the city of Wuhan discovered a cluster of just six COVID-19 cases around two weeks ago—the first cases there in more than a month—they quickly set an ambitious plan to test the entire city of roughly 11 million and crush a potential second wave of infection. And they initially planned to try to do it in just 10 days.

Ten days out, they nearly met that goal. Wuhan Municipal Health Commission swabbed more than 9 million residents and tested more than 6.5 million of those swabs for coronavirus genetic material between May 15 and May 24, according to state media.

Laboratories in the city went from conducting 46,000 tests a day to as many as 1.47 million in the screening sprint, according to The New York Times. The Times notes that in the US, New York tested 1.7 million people since March 4, a nearly three-months time frame, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.

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CDC Warns of Increasingly Aggressive Rodents Looking For New Food Sources

science - Posted On:2020-05-27 06:14:57 Source: slashdot

New submitter Way Smarter Than You shares a report from The Seattle Times: Humans aren't the only ones hankering for the days they could dine out at their cities' restaurants: Some rats that miss feasting on the scraps are becoming increasingly brazen to find new food sources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday. Amid stay-home restrictions set across the country to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus, many restaurants and cafes are closed or limited to takeout and delivery, and with the reduced sales, the restaurants' trash bins are no longer overflowing with scrumptious leftovers hoards of rodents subsisted on. Finding slimmer pickings than they used to, cities' critters are more aggressive, prompting CDC to issue guidance on how to deter them. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been increased reports of rat cannibalism and infanticide in New York, as well as more rat complaints in residential areas -- including in Chicago -- as humans produce more food waste at home. Roving rat armies, including one caught on camera scavenging New Orleans' empty streets, are concerning to the CDC, which says rodents can carry disease. The CDC advises home and business owners to cover garbage cans, put bird and pet food out of reach and seal small holes rodents could access in buildings. If people follow established cleaning guidelines, they can avoid exposure to rodent-borne diseases, according to the agency. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Why Glass Frogs Have See-Through Skin Becomes Clear In Study

science - Posted On:2020-05-26 22:14:59 Source: slashdot

The mystery of why glass frogs have see-through skin has been solved, scientists say: the unusual feature is a type of camouflage. The Guardian reports: Glass frogs are found in tropical Central and South America, and get their name from their skin. However, the frogs are not truly transparent but translucent, with the skin on their backs typically a vivid green and their intestines and heart visible through their underbelly. This has led to a question that has kept scientists on the hop. "If predators cannot see straight though the frogs, why do glass frogs have transparent skin at all, and not the opaque camouflaged patterns of other tree frog species?" said Dr James Barnett, a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, Canada, who co-authored the study. Barnett and colleagues say they have cracked the conundrum. "The frog is always green to generally match leaves, but leaves will differ in their brightness," said Barnett. The team say that while the color of the frog's body changes little against dark or light foliage, the legs are more translucent and hence shift in brightness, helping the amphibians to blend in. "By having translucent legs and resting with the legs surrounding the body, the frog's edge is transformed into a softer, less contrasting gradient from the leaf to the legs, and again from the legs to the body," said Barnett, noting that this makes the frog's outline less recognizable to predators. Writing in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Barnett and colleagues report how they carried out three experiments. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A Virus-Hunter Falls Prey To a Virus He Underestimated

science - Posted On:2020-05-26 16:59:59 Source: slashdot

Peter Piot, 71, one of the giants of Ebola and AIDS research, is still battling a coronavirus infection that hit him "like a bus" in March. From a report:"This is the revenge of the viruses," said Dr. Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "I've made their lives difficult. Now they're trying to get me." Dr. Piot, 71 years old, is a legend in the battles against Ebola and AIDS. But Covid-19 almost killed him. "A week ago, I couldn't have done this interview," he said, speaking recently by Skype from his London dining room, a painting of calla lilies behind him. "I was still short of breath after 10 minutes." Looking back, ruefully, on being brought down by a virus after a life as a virus-hunter, Dr. Piot said he had misjudged his prey and had become the hunted. "I underestimated this one -- how fast it would spread. My mistake was to think it was like SARS, which was pretty limited in scope. Or that it was like influenza. But it's neither." In 1976, as a graduate student in virology at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, Dr. Piot was part of the international team that investigated a mysterious viral hemorrhagic fever in Yambuku, Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. To avoid stigmatizing the town, team members named the virus "Ebola" after a nearby river. Later, in the 1980s, he was one of the scientists who proved that the wasting disease known as "slim" in Africa was caused by the same virus that was killing young gay men elsewhere. From 1991 to 1994, he was president of the International AIDS Society, and then the first director of U.N.AIDS, the United Nations' anti-H.I.V. program. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Early tests of vaccine for COVID-19 pass peer review, look promising

Science - Posted On:2020-05-26 13:45:00 Source: arstechnica

We still don't know how well a robust immune response protects people from SARS-CoV-2 infection. But we've got a further indication that vaccines can induce a strong immune response. Just prior to the holiday weekend, a Chinese team released the results of a safety trial done using a harmless virus that had been modified to carry one of the coronavirus genes. While there were a number of side effects, everyone getting the vaccine had a robust antibody response, including some antibodies that neutralized the virus.

The first indication of progress towards a vaccine that we're aware of came in the form of a company press release. This new one comes in the form of a peer-reviewed article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Most of its authors are academic researchers or public health authorities; only two have affiliations with a company.

The two reports also differ significantly in terms of their approach to generating an immune response. The earlier announcement, from a company called Moderna, involved injecting carefully packed RNAs that encode the spike protein that normally resides on the surface of the virus. The RNAs transit inside a person's cells and induce them to to produce the spike protein, thereby exposing the immune system to it.

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Virgin Orbit's First Orbital Test Flight Cut Short After Rocket Released from Carrier Aircraft

science - Posted On:2020-05-26 03:59:57 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader shares a report: On Monday, Virgin Orbit attempted the first full flight of its orbital payload launch system, which includes a modified Boeing 747 called 'Cosmic Girl' that acts as a carrier aircraft for its air-launched rocket LauncherOne. While Virgin Orbit has flown Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne previously for different tests and demonstrations, this was the first end-to-end system test. Unfortunately, that test ended much earlier than planned -- just shortly after the LauncherOne rocket was released from Cosmic Girl. Cosmic Girl took off just before 12 PM PT (3 PM ET) from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. The aircraft was piloted by Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer, along with her co-pilot Todd Ericson. The aircraft then flew to its target release point, where LauncherOne did manage a "clean release" from the carrier craft as planned at around 12:50 PM PT (3:50 PM ET), but Virgin noted just a few minutes later that the mission was subsequently "terminated." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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