All posts tagged: open question

Earth Could Outlive the Sun

Earth Could Outlive the Sun

[ad_1] This article was originally published by Quanta Magazine. Earth’s fate rests on a coin flip. In 5 billion years, our sun will balloon into a red giant star. Whether Earth survives is an “open question,” Melinda Soares-Furtado, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, says. Sure, Earth could be swallowed by the sun and destroyed. But in some scenarios, Earth escapes and is pushed farther out into the solar system. Now a nearby planetary system has offered clues to our planet’s cosmic hereafter. About 57 light-years away, four planets orbit a sunlike star that is some 10 billion years old—about twice as old as the sun, and already in the advanced stages of its life. Stephen Kane, an astrophysicist specializing in planetary habitability at UC Riverside, recently modeled what might happen to the elderly system’s planets when the star becomes a red giant in a billion years. He found that most of the inner planets will be engulfed but that the outermost known planet, which has an orbit somewhat similar to Venus’s, …

A Major Climate Force Has Been Ignored for Decades

A Major Climate Force Has Been Ignored for Decades

[ad_1] Finding a vole on Alaska’s North Slope takes practice. The open plain pulls the eye upward, toward grand things: the horizon line, the distant shimmer of snow in the mountains. The nearest tree is more than 50 miles away. The low shrubs and sedges toss and wave in the wind. It’s a place where a 600-pound musk ox can look dog-size. In this landscape, even a very large vole—weighing less than three ounces and no more than nine inches long—is easy to miss. But Nick Patel knows what to look for. Last August, Patel pointed my attention toward a depression worn into the moss, a path that disappeared into a yellowed tuft of sedge. Voles are creatures of habit, scurrying so often over the same route that they wear trails—runways—into the soil. Once you know to look for them, the tundra is laced through with vole runways. Patel is a field tech with Team Vole, a group of some 20 researchers studying Alaska’s voles and lemmings. Despite their size, these creatures are a force …

Earth’s Hot Oceans Are a Cosmic Tragedy

Earth’s Hot Oceans Are a Cosmic Tragedy

[ad_1] The ocean off the coast of southern Florida is having a long, hot summer. For weeks, surface temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, before dropping to the 80s last week. The world’s third-largest barrier reef is dying, and scientists are fishing out coral samples and bringing them to the cool safety of laboratory tanks. One spot along the coastline hit triple-digit temperatures last month, conditions you would expect inside a hot tub. Some coastal Floridians skipped their usual dips in the ocean because it didn’t seem appealing anymore. Marine heat waves—periods of persistent and anomalously high temperatures of surface seawater—have materialized in other parts of the world too. The surface temperatures of about 44 percent of Earth’s oceans are currently experiencing extreme heat, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some of that warming is to be expected, because 2023 is an El Niño year. But “all of these marine heat waves are made warmer because of climate change,” Dillon Amaya, a research scientist at NOAA’s Physical Sciences Laboratory, told me. June was …

No One Really Knows Why COVID Spikes in Summer

No One Really Knows Why COVID Spikes in Summer

[ad_1] Since the pandemic’s earliest days, epidemiologists have been waiting for the coronavirus to finally snap out of its pan-season spree. No more spring waves like the first to hit the United States in 2020, no more mid-year surges like the one that turned Hot Vax Summer on its head. Eventually, or so the hope went, SARS-CoV-2 would adhere to the same calendar that many other airway pathogens stick to, at least in temperate parts of the globe: a heavy winter peak, then a summer on sabbatical. But three and a half years into the outbreak, the coronavirus is still stubbornly refusing to take the warmest months off. Some public-health experts are now worried that, after a relatively quiet stretch, the virus is kick-starting yet another summer wave. In the southern and northeastern United States, concentrations of the coronavirus in wastewater have been slowly ticking up for several weeks, with the Midwest and West now following suit; test-positivity rates, emergency-department diagnoses of COVID-19, and COVID hospitalizations are also on the rise. The absolute numbers are …